01.31.2010 0

How one man killed Obamacare

  • On: 02/04/2010 09:21:44
  • In: Health Care
  • by Michael Swartz

    As most of Americans already know, Republican Scott Brown was elected to take over the “Kennedy seat” in the Senate, dispatching Democrat opponent Martha Coakley handily in Massachusetts’ recent special election. Thus ended Democrats’ filibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate and prospects for ramming Obamacare through on a strictly party-line vote.

    Yet had the House and Senate concurred earlier on a health care reform bill agreeable to both Brown’s election wouldn’t have mattered nearly as much. Instead, each body designed legislation to pass their own side and in the end the differences were irreconcilable.

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally threw in the towel, saying the one chance Obamacare had – passing the Senate bill as it was in the House – couldn’t draw the required 218 votes. A main sticking point was that the Senate bill lacked the prohibition on the federal government paying directly for abortions. That provision allowed the House to pass their bill with just two votes to spare and gave it the barest bipartisan fig leaf as GOP Rep. Joseph Cao of Louisiana was the lone Republican in favor.

    Undeniably, part of Brown’s appeal was the prospect of killing Obamacare by being the 41st Republican vote and denying Democrats their supermajority. In the election’s aftermath, petulant Democrats threw losing candidate Martha Coakley under the bus for running a terrible, gaffe-prone campaign and openly spoke about changing the filibuster rules to allow Democrats to maintain their hammerlock, perhaps needing just 55 votes instead of 60. Decades ago, a compromise measure lowered the limit from a 2/3 majority of 67 Senators to the current 3/5 majority.

    Cooler heads prevailed, though, and now the consensus on health care reform is to deliver it in a piecemeal fashion by removing some of the most objectionable portions and focusing on areas where broad agreement exists, such as eliminating the right to deny coverage for preexisting conditions. But gone will be the ability for Democrats to fashion closed-door deals such as the one exempting union workers from a tax on so-called “Cadillac” health insurance plans.

    While Republicans were pleased about picking up a Massachusetts seat for the first time in nearly 40 years, the prospects of becoming the majority party in the Senate this fall are fairly slim. Of the 36 Senate seats up for consideration (there are special elections to fill unexpired terms in Delaware and New York), 18 of the seats are Republican and 18 are held by Democrats.

    To even things out, the GOP would have to sweep the seats they’re defending and win half the available Democratic seats – a tall order to be sure. The prevailing conventional wisdom at the moment pegs GOP gains of 2 to 4 seats, which would leave them still significantly in the minority.

    But an enhanced Republican presence in the Senate would curb the radically statist agenda thus far presented by President Obama, creating a similar effect to the 1994 midterm election which tempered President Clinton’s ambitious plans for health care reform. In order to win his own reelection, President Clinton tacked to the center and the strategy paid off in 1996.

    Given what Obama has proposed and already enacted, though, moving to the center may be a little much to expect out of him. The 2012 Presidential election will likely see Obama run for a second term against two opponents: the Republican nominee and a “do-nothing” Congress which thwarted much of his ambitious agenda to remake America.

    For that, we can thank Scott Brown and Massachusetts voters who hoped for a better change.

    Michael Swartz, an architect and writer who lives in rural Maryland, is a Liberty Features Syndicated writer.

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