Massachusetts' Senate Election Could Shape Health Reform's Endgame

The Washington Post: "Democrat Martha Coakley's struggle to stave off a potentially devastating defeat in Tuesday's special Senate election in Massachusetts marks a critical turning point in the year-long debate about health-care reform." A win by Scott Brown "would give Republicans 41 votes in the Senate and further embolden them to challenge the core of President Obama's agenda." 

"Even before the polls opened, White House officials sought to blunt the narrative that the race was a referendum on the president's health-care initiative, in part by arguing that Massachusetts already has universal coverage." But Republicans "scoffed at the assertion" that health reform wasn't a force behind Coakley's struggles in the polls (Balz and Cillizza, 1/19).

The Associated Press reports that the "down-to-the-wire campaign has shaken some Democrats' belief that most Americans will see the proposed health delivery changes as worthwhile." Dems are also concerned that even if the health bill survives, "the Massachusetts experience may erode congressional support for other priorities of President Barack Obama, such as energy and climate-change bills… (but Democrats are) saying there will be time to explain to voters the benefits of the proposed health care package. The public will forget the parliamentary tactics that were used to pass it, no matter how ugly, these Democrats say" (Babington, 1/19).

Roll Call: "Democratic leaders publicly espoused confidence that Coakley would eke out a victory, but behind the scenes were nearing full-out panic mode. Members were cutting checks to Coakley, Obama jetted to Massachusetts on Sunday to campaign, and House lawmakers like Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) told reporters that a Coakley loss would kill the health care bill" (Dennis, Newmyer and Pierce, 1/19).

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "insisted that — whatever the outcome — the results today will in no way represent a repudiation of the Obama administration, especially on the matter of health care reform. 'Certainly the dynamics will change depending on what happens in Massachusetts,' she said. 'But it doesn't mean we won't have a health care bill'" (Marinucci and Garofoli, 1/19).

Politico: "The health care backdrop has given the White House a strong incentive to strike a defiant posture, at least rhetorically, in response to what would be an undeniable embarrassment for the president and his party." But "[w]hatever words Obama chooses, however, will have trouble masking the substantive reality: A Massachusetts embarrassment would strongly increase the pressure Obama was already facing to retreat or slow down the 'big bang' agenda he laid out a year ago" (Allen, 1/18).

Roll Call, in a separate story, that moderate Democratic senators still appear to support the reform effort. "With all Republicans remaining firmly opposed, just one Democratic defection could dissolve Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) 60-vote coalition and sink a negotiated House-Senate health care bill. But nearly four weeks of falling poll numbers since the Senate approved its reform bill apparently hasn't scared off centrist Democrats — including those who have taken the brunt of the criticism at home, their offices confirmed late last week" (Drucker, 1/19). 

Las Vegas Sun: The Massachusetts race could affect Reid's re-election chances in Nevada. "Unlike Coakley, Reid's campaign has taken 'nothing for granted,' (a) strategist said. The senator has known all along that he faces an uphill battle in Nevada, where independents have been shifting away from Democrats and toward Republicans" (Mascaro and Mishak, 1/19).

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