Jonathan Chait

Will Massachusetts Kill Health Care?

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Republicans are giddy, and Democrats increasingly concerned, that Republican Scott Brown will win a low-turnout special Senate election in Massachusetts in which Democrats appear comatose and Republicans fired up with the rage of the insane. If Brown wins, of course, then the Republicans have 41 votes and could stop health care reform.

Would that really happen? Ben Smith lays out two possibilities for passage. The first is to rush a bill through both chambers before Brown takes office. The second would be for the House of Representatives to pass the Senate bill unchanged, which would require no further vote by the Senate.

The third possibility, unmentioned by Smith, would be to go back to Olympia Snowe. My hunch is that Snowe wants reform to pass but doesn't want to take the heat of voting for it. She might be willing to deal if she suddenly became the sixtieth vote rather than the unnecessary sixty-first. But she might also need to save face by demanding some concession which, in turn, could extend and possibly blow up the negotiations.

That's why possibility #2 strikes me as most likely. The House wants leverage over health care reform, but if the alternative is nothing, then you'll find 218 Democrats to support the Senate bill. If Congress wants to change some of the features of the Senate bill, the sections currently being negotiated largely center on taxes and spending, which means they could be included in a separate reconciliation bill, which only requires fifty Senate votes.

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