Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sweating Out the Massachusetts Senate Race

Health care reform advocates will be sweating bullets Tuesday, watching the returns in the Massachusetts Senate race. What was expected to be a non-event suddenly got interesting, with early January polls suggesting a tight race between Democratic nominee Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown in the race to replace the late Ted Kennedy.

Now, most people are still betting on Coakley to win.

Even if she loses, giving the Republican’s the 41st seat they need to sustain a filibuster, health care reform isn’t dead.

The Senate could simply wait to certify Brown for the seat until health care is safely passed. That would be ugly, but not passing reform probably seems uglier.

Or the House could just hold its nose and pass the Senate bill unamended. That wouldn’t make many House dems happy, but—again—it would probably make them happier than seeing health care reform crash and burn.

But it could also derail the whole thing.

Even a surprisingly close raise will have consequences for reform. As we’ve pointed out, the implementation process will depend heavily on who does the implementing. And if members of Congress conclude that the people of Massachusetts are sending a message about the reform bill, they will run away from it as fast as they can.

Call it a Reverse-Harris-Wofford.

It was Wofford’s stunning Senate victory in Pennsylvania in November 1991 that catapulted health care reform to the top of the political agenda in Washington two decades ago. Wofford came out of nowhere to beat Richard Thornburgh, with health care viewed as the key issue.

Of course, the reform debate didn’t end well for the Democrats in that case: voters threw them out of office in 1994, Wofford along with them.

So don’t expect the sweating to stop even if Coakley does win.

top image by flickr user Mark Sardella used under a creative commons license

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