Despite Barack Obama’s bravado in declaring that he will “fight on” for ObamaCare and Nancy Pelosi’s insistence on charging forward, the two Democratic leaders may find fewer and fewer people following behind them. After watching the voter revolt in Massachusetts do the unthinkable — put a Republican in reach of the seat held by the Kennedys for almost 60 years — Democrats around the country are suddenly rethinking the bill that got deep-blue voters angry in what had been a reliable bastion for liberalism:
Ever since health care reform flamed out in the 1990s, Democrats thought lots of things might derail their longtime dream this time around. Losing a Senate seat in liberal Massachusetts was not on the list.
But that is the harsh reality sinking in among Democrats — that a Republican victory Tuesday could spell the end of health reform because there is no good option to rescue the plan from this latest brush with political death.
Publicly, the White House and top Democrats held firm to their stance that health care reform will pass this year. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Monday that Democrats will need to figure out a way to proceed if Republican Scott Brown wins, “but that doesn’t mean we won’t have a health care bill.” …
But privately, Democrats are getting cold feet about pushing ahead full bore on health care. Moderate Democrats who have long been skeptical of the administration’s focus on the issue could begin to peel away in the face of a convincing loss for Democrat Martha Coakley, dealing a fatal blow to legislation that had no room for error in either chamber.
Democrats have options to salvage reform following a Brown victory, but all have serious deficiencies.
Any politician’s first instinct is for survival. Pelosi may not have as much to worry about in that regard, as her district is reliably leftist enough to keep her in place. (Of course, that’s what Massachusetts Democrats thought about the Coakley race, too.) Everyone else has seen what transpired in the Bay State and can do the easy math: a 2-1 registration advantage for Democrats in Massachusetts didn’t do squat for Coakley.
What’s worse, all of the options left to Democrats make the situation worse. Reconciliation will strip out the most popular parts of ObamaCare, such as barring refusals for pre-existing conditions and the insurance mandate, leaving only the taxes and budget cuts to pass. The White House wants to have the House pass the Senate bill with a promise to add more language later to significantly change the system, but (a) that means that the entire mess will arrive in the Senate and House again and drag it out politically during an election year, and (b) the House has to agree to a bill with no public option, the Cadillac tax that hits union plans, and with abortion funding, three absolute deal-killers.
If Obama wants to stretch the ObamaCare debate that far into 2010, the Democrats would be better off starting over from scratch and inviting Republicans to draft a bill that will win actual bipartisan support — one that will spread the responsibility to all incumbents, and that will necessarily be smaller in scope. More Democrats seem to understand this, and continued efforts by Pelosi and Obama to force them to wear an obvious albatross around their necks in an election year will only undermine their claim to leadership. Expect a back-bencher revolt in the House to strip away the rest of these options in the coming days if Scott Brown wins the election, and for Democrats to quietly decide on a “hard pivot” instead to the economy.