Democrats look to regroup, cast blame
By Ben Pershing
President Obama awoke on the first anniversary of his inauguration to a capital much less hospitable than it was a year -- even a day -- earlier, after the GOP's upset win in Massachusetts robbed Democrats of a supermajority in the Senate and any semblance of momentum for their agenda.
"Republican Scott P. Brown pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Massachusetts political history last night, defeating Democrat Martha Coakley to become the state's next US senator and potentially derailing President Obama's hopes for a health care overhaul," the Boston Globe ledes. The Boston Herald deploys a full arsenal of metaphors: "Scott Brown rocketed to victory in the race to the U.S. Senate yesterday, steamrolling Attorney General Martha Coakley's layabout campaign in an against-all-odds triumph that sent shock waves from the Heartland to the White House." Brown took 52 percent to Coakley's 47 percent, slightly closer than Pollster.com's final survey average of 51-44. "Barack Obama and his Democratic allies are suddenly scrambling to save his signature health care overhaul and somehow rediscover their political magic after an epic loss in the Massachusetts Senate race," the Associated Press writes.
It will take at least a day or two two to sort through the data and figure out why this happened, right? Nah. Jill Lawrence writes: "How did it happen? The same way Massachusetts nominees lost the presidency for Democrats in 1988 and 2004, and the same way Democrats in Congress lost health reform and their majorities in 1994. They think they have all the time in the world to define themselves, to sell themselves and their policies, to respond to attacks, to dicker over bills, to win elections. And then it turns out they don't." Dan Balz notes that populist anger helped put Obama in the White House, and now "in a dramatic reversal of fortunes, populist anger has turned sharply against the president and his party." Marc Ambinder reminds: "By the way: the state legislature is very unpopular in Mass. and run by Democrats. The governor is unpopular and is a Democrat. Like many other states, Massachusetts is struggling with enormous budgetary problems; taxes are being raised and spending are being cut. It's not a good time to be a Democrat."
National Democrats and the Coakley campaign started trading blame for the loss well before the polls closed. So whose fault was it? Was it Obama and his health care bill, or Coakley's campaign or just the particular circumstances in Massachusetts? The answer, as usual, is all of the above. The Fix says "the simple fact ... is that everyone from the White House to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to the Coakley campaign deserves their share of blame." Nate Silver looks at the 31-point swing, from Obama's 26-point win in 2008 to Coakley's 5-point loss Tuesday, and divvies it up: "That would make the final score: national environment 13, Coakley 14, special circumstances 4." Howard Fineman also blames everyone but gives Coakley herself the number one slot. Media Matters uses Election Night polling to argue that the result wasn't really a referendum on Obama or a "rejection" of health-care reform.
Whoever or whatever was at fault, Brown's win means the reform movement could collapse "unless Democrats can thread a very narrow legislative needle," the Washington Post writes. For the record, Democrats never really contemplated rushing a bill through the Senate before Brown is seated. So the most likely path is for the House to simply take up the Senate bill, with or without a later reconciliation measure that would address the changes the House wants made. "But several House members said last night they're not prepared to pass the Senate bill alone - even if it means health care reform would die," Politico reports. (Do those members mean it, or are they still angling for a better deal? The only way to find out might be to put the Senate bill on the floor and roll the dice, something Nancy Pelosi hasn't assented to doing.) Roll Call writes that Joe Courtney, the leader of the House's anti-Cadillac tax movement, "said he would keep an open mind about the dual-track approach -- provided leaders could offer solid assurances that reconciliation would hew closely to the compromise the two chambers have already forged to scale back the tax." The Boston Globe looks at the "sad irony" that this was Kennedy's seat, and "while the late senator's long legislative record remains intact, advocates for a health care overhaul wonder whether the dream of achieving their goal died with the Massachusetts senator."
As for the White House, Adam Nagourney wonders, "will Mr. Obama now make further accommodations to Republicans in an effort to move legislation through Congress with more bipartisanship, even at the cost of further alienating liberals annoyed at what they see as his ideological malleability? Or will he seek to rally his party's base through confrontation, even if it means giving up on getting much done this year?" David Axelrod tells Playbook, "The lesson is to focus very clearly on the concerns -- particularly the economic concerns -- of everyday people. And those concerns go to jobs. Those concerns go to retirement security. They go to the cost of education kids. And, yes, they go to the cost of health care, too. ... I think that it would a terrible mistake to walk away now. If we don't pass the bill, all we have is the stigma of a caricature that was put on it. That would be the worst result for everybody who has supported this bill." The Wall Street Journal editorial page says Tuesday's result "ought to force Democrats to rethink their entire agenda." Joe Conason recalls that similarly premature obituaries were written for the Clinton presidency in 1994.
The fate of health care remains uncertain, but at least Democrats will get a debt commission! "White House and congressional leaders reached a tentative deal aimed at establishing a bipartisan commission to tackle the soaring federal budget deficit," the Wall Street Journal reports, while noting "Republican leaders weren't part of the talks, and the panel can work only if GOP leaders select members to serve on it." The Washington Post explains that, according to the deal, Obama "would issue an executive order to create an 18-member panel that would be granted broad authority to propose changes in the tax code and in the massive federal entitlement programs." Hill Democrats, Hill Republicans and Obama would select six members apiece. Looking ahead, The Hill reports "House Democrats are rejecting an idea floated by the Obama administration to freeze or cut discretionary spending in 2011."
January 20, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories: Health Care , The Rundown
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