This article originally appeared on The Media Consortium.
Last night, Republican Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley in the special election to fill Teddy Kennedy’s senate seat in Massachusetts. Coakley’s loss puts healthcare reform in jeopardy.
With Coakley’s defeat, the Democrats lose their filibuster-proof sixty-seat majority in the Senate. However, as Paul Waldman explains in The American Prospect, Coakley’s loss is not the end for healthcare reform.
Remember, the Senate already passed its healthcare reform bill in December. Now, the House has to pass its version of the bill. The original plan was for House and Senate leaders to blend the two bills together in conference to create a final piece of legislation (a k a a conference report) that both houses would vote on. Once the Democrats are down to fifty-nine votes, the Republicans can filibuster the conference report and kill healthcare reform.
But if the House passes the same bill the Senate just passed, there’s no need to reconcile the two bills. This so-called “ping-pong” approach may be the best way to salvage healthcare reform. Some of the flaws in the Senate bill could still be fixed later through budget reconciliation. It would be an uphill battle, but nothing compared to starting healthcare reform from scratch.
The second option would be to get the bill done before Scott Brown is sworn in. According to Waldman, there could be a vote within ten days. The House and Senate have already drafted some compromise legislation, which Waldman thinks is superior to the straight Senate bill. If that language were sent to the Congressional Budget Office immediately, the Senate could vote before Brown is sworn in.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement last night that Brown won’t be sworn in until the election results are certified, a process that could take two weeks. Historically, the winners of special Senate elections have taken over from their interim predecessors within a couple of days. If the Republicans were in this position, they’d use every procedural means at their disposal to drag out the process. The question is whether the Democrats have the fortitude to make the system work for them.
Remember how the Republicans did everything in their power to hold up the Senate healthcare vote, including forcing the clerk to read the 767-page bill aloud? They were trying to delay the vote until after the Massachusetts special election. If it’s okay for the GOP to stall, the Democrats should be allowed to drag their feet on swearing in Brown.