Scott Brown’s victory: Back to square one on healthcare reform?

Senator-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts could provide the 41st Republican vote necessary to block a healthcare reform bill. Moderates of both parties say it’s time to start over with a broad, bipartisan strategy.

Robert F. Bukaty/AP
US Senator-elect Scott Brown (R) of Massachusetts, speaks at a news conference at a hotel in Boston Wednesday.

In the wake of Hurricane Scott Brown, centrists on both sides of the aisle are calling for a pause in the rush to complete healthcare reform.

For some, like Sen. Jim Webb (D) of Virginia, it’s a pause long enough to seat Republican Senator-elect Scott Brown, whose upset victory in Tuesday’s Massachusetts vote stunned Capitol Hill.

Calling the race “a referendum not only on healthcare reform but also on the openness and integrity of our government process,” Senator Webb said Democrats need to hold off on further action until Brown is formally sworn in to the chamber.

'Suspend further votes on healthcare'

“It is vital that we restore the respect of the American people in our system of government and in our leaders. To that end, I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on healthcare legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated,” he said.

But other moderates say that the lesson from the Bay State vote runs deeper than who is the 60th Senate vote – it’s a repudiation of the partisan business as usual on Capitol Hill. On Tuesday, Sens. Evan Bayh (D) of Indiana – the lone Democrat to vote against raising the debt limit last
December – and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut called for Democrats to shift their agenda back to the center.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska and, on the Republican side, Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, today called on President Obama and Democratic leaders to start over with a broad, bipartisan strategy.

Republican moderates insist that there is still interest in GOP ranks to work on healthcare, but in a more modest range.

Starting from scratch on a consensus bill

“I think it’s a mistake for the administration to constantly try to find the 60th vote,” says Senator Collins, often approached by Democrats to break ranks and become that 60th vote on major legislation. “We haven’t been sent to Washington to play just a negative role. We are happy to work with the president to start from scratch to work with a bipartisan group of senators to achieve a consensus bill that would have bipartisan support.”

Senator Snowe, viewed by Democrats as the most likely Republican to join them on healthcare, said today that the strategy of trying to peel off one vote was a “profound error.”

“Instead of peeling off votes, they should have tried to come up with the right policy,” she said.

For moderates, often blasted by the base of their respective parties, the Massachusetts shocker is a way to reopen the case for a centrist path.

A new bipartisanship?

“The issue coming out of the Massachusetts isn’t just about Mr. Brown, it’s about whether there will be bipartisanship,” says Senator Nelson. “I got my head handed to me by the political left when I said healthcare bill should be 65 votes. But if the other side thinks they have no obligation to work with Democrats, their day is coming, too.”

The mood was somber coming out of Wednesday’s Senate Democratic caucus meeting. Even some Democrats with a strong record of working across party lines expressed doubts that there was the political will to revive a bipartisan approach, especially on healthcare.

“It’s a good time to take a deep breath and to listen – not just to one another but to voices outside the nation’s capital,” says Sen. Thomas Carper (D) of Delaware. “In the end, no Republicans were willing to work with us in a real bipartisan basis on healthcare reform. If my life depended on telling you what our Republican friends think our health policy should be, I’d be a dead man. I’m not sure what they’re for, and I don’t think they know, either.”

At a press conference Wednesday, reports the Washington Post, Senator-elect Brown offered a conciliatory note on healthcare reform. “We’re past campaign mode: I think it’s important for everyone to get some form of healthcare,” he is quoted as saying.


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