Massachusetts Senate race results: Obama's signal that all is changed

Republican Scott Brown's upset victory in the Massachusetts Senate race results portends huge challenges ahead for President Obama and majority Democrats. National healthcare reform may well stall, and new carbon-emissions rules are now unlikely. What will be the revised agenda?

By , Staff writer

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    Newly elected US Senator Scott Brown holds up a special edition of the Boston Herald declaring him the winner during his victory speech at the Park Plaza in Boston, Massachusetts on Tuesday night.
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For President Obama, Republican Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts Senate race changes everything.

OK, that may be an exaggeration. ­The GOP’s triumph in a blue state may not change everything so much as reveal that everything has changed since Mr. Obama was inaugurated one long year ago.

Since then, the economy has continued to struggle, while unemployment has risen into the double digits. Meanwhile, voters have watched as financial and auto firms got bailed out and bankers continued to award themselves fat bonus packages.

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The voters wanted change in 2008, and what they’ve got so far has been change they don’t like.

“I have no interest in sugarcoating what happened in Massachusetts,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D) of New Jersey, head of the Senate Democrats' campaign committee. “There is a lot of anxiety in the country right now. Americans are understandably impatient.”

The future of the Obama administration’s agenda now has become much less certain.

Healthcare reform's dubious future

Healthcare reform is in big trouble. There are maneuvers Democrats could use to try to ram legislation through despite losing their filibuster-proof, 60-seat Senate majority. But in the wake of Democrat Martha Coakley’s crushing loss, some moderate Democrats elsewhere in the country already are expressing reluctance to take any drastic steps.

Moderate Sen. Jim Webb (D) of Virginia, for instance, said the Senate should not hold any further votes on healthcare until Senator-elect Brown is seated.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) of California insisted that a healthcare bill will still pass, however. Liberal Democrats said that, if anything, the Brown victory meant they needed to move faster.

Cap-and-trade for carbon emissions? Gone.

Obama’s ambitious proposal for cap-and-trade carbon-emission regulation, meant to combat global climate change, now is not going anywhere this year.

Cap-and-trade always faced a steep uphill climb. It would constitute as big a change in national policy as healthcare reform, maybe bigger. But lawmakers were never going to get around to considering it until after the healthcare fight was over.

Retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan (D) of North Dakota indicated Tuesday that the Senate is not likely to take up cap-and-trade at all in 2010.

“In the aftermath of a very, very heavy lift on healthcare, it’s unlikely that the Senate will turn to a very complicated and controversial subject of cap-and-trade,” Senator Dorgan told reporters.

Ahead, a more intense focus on jobs and the economy

So what initiatives will the White House pursue? Indications are that Obama may pivot from nation-changing initiatives to a more populist agenda focused on jobs and other aspects of the economy.

In recent days Obama has sounded almost like an angry participant in a "tea party" rally as he excoriated huge bonuses while proposing a new tax on big banks.

Every new US president reaches a point in his term where the agenda he brought with him to office no longer applies. The world has changed, and he has changed, and it is time to improvise in response.

For Barack Obama, Jan. 20, 2010, thus may mark the beginning of a new and difficult phase in his presidency.

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