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Should Democrats pass health-care reform even if Martha Coakley loses?


I'm fairly optimistic that health-care reform will pass, even if Martha Coakley loses to Scott Brown in Massachusetts. It certainly can pass, as the House could simply approve the Senate bill unchanged and then make modifications through the reconciliation process. Whether Coakley's loss will terrify Democrats into abandoning the bill is harder to predict. My only data point is that it's hard to believe that Democrats would rather enter the 2010 elections explaining failure or apologizing for ineffectiveness than carrying this message.

But I want to focus on the perverse idea that it somehow shouldn't pass if Coakley loses. A few months ago, Democrats had 60 votes in the Senate. Then, Ted Kennedy, the politician most closely associated with health-care reform, died. There is no argument on the table that had he not died, he would have opposed this bill, or that if he were somehow on the ballot next week, he would not win the election.

But he did die, and he is not on the ballot. So a special election was called pitting attorney general Martha Coakley against state Senator Scott Brown. Coakley has proven a hapless, gaffe-prone candidate. Brown has been a charming, energetic force. Two polls show that Coakley is trailing Brown. One of them, the Rasmussen poll, found that Coakley was trailing Brown and that voters supported health-care reform. Another, the Suffolk poll (pdf), found that Coakley was trailing Brown, and that voters opposed the health-care reform law -- but they supported the Massachusetts health-care reform law, which is virtually the same bill.

Meanwhile, the most recent Gallup poll showed a slim plurality favoring passage of the bill.

Of course, we do not live in a direct democracy. We live in a representative democracy. And none of this is taking place in context of Republicans securing a majority of votes in the Senate. The idea, rather, is that it would be wrong to pass health-care reform because 41 Republicans would band together on a procedural maneuver that is supposed to extend debate but instead will be used to block a majority of 59 Democrats from holding an up-or-down vote on the health-care reform bill. Again: The Massachusetts election does not change the fact that a large majority of the Senate is committed to voting for this bill, and that 60 Democrats would be voting for this bill had Ted Kennedy not died of brain cancer.

Brown's election could change the viability of procedural obstructionism, but not the will of the majority. The idea that his victory somehow makes it unfair for them to pass health-care reform, or is a betrayal of the results of the Massachusetts special election, is strange indeed.

Photo credit: By Gretchen Ertl/Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  |  January 15, 2010; 1:19 PM ET
Categories:  Health Reform  
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It is very strange. Can they pass something on Monday? Because if they can they should. The optics of passing something after "losing" the supermajority will be bad for the bill and bad for Democrats.

Not that it makes any sense!!

God, I wanted just two things...I didn't care wtf else happened. I wanted some kind of health care reform bill that allows a person like me with a 25 year old pre-existing condition to buy health insurance. So I can retire and give my good-paying job to someone else! And I wanted to end the two middle-eastern wars. It's looking like I will be working, and my tax dollars going to war and destruction. Maybe I could opt out of war payments?

Posted by: luko | January 15, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

It should pass because 50 Senators plus the Vice President will vote for it. Any other reason it giving in to the tyranny of the perpetual state of filibuster crowd.

Posted by: flounder2 | January 15, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

I'll make a prediction, based on what I think of various "moderate" Senators: If Coakley loses to Brown, the health care reform bill will suddenly lose the support of Lieberman, Mr Nelson of Nebraska, Bayh, or Conrad.

One of them will shake loose in supporting it for some arbitrary "the people have spoken" kind of nonsense.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | January 15, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

urgent message to progressive bloggers Klein, firedoglake et. al.: we are changing course, tacking the other way. Do not write any more that her campaign is "inept" and she is a bad candidate. With the help of ACORN and a last minute smear campaign, we think we can win this. heh heh. So join us in pulling her out from under the bus where we were throwing her yesterday.

Posted by: truck1 | January 15, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse


Because it is totally believable that people would plan to manipulate a vote in the comments section on a blog....get a clue.

Posted by: zosima | January 15, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

Left Blogistan is already setting up the meme that a Coakley defeat is her own damn fault, nothing to do with national trends, blah blah. I'm delighted that EK is finally focusing on reform's perilous position here (after confessing six days ago he wasn't even paying attention to the Massachusetts race) but I'm gobsmacked he doesn't mention the administration as a factor, given that it pushed hard for the 60-vote strategy in lieu of reconciliation.

Posted by: scarlota | January 15, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, how realistic is this though? Even if they have ~10 days before Brown is sworn in, the optics would be terrible. And are Nelson, Lieberman, or Lincoln going to stick around or abandon ship?

Posted by: Isa8686 | January 15, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

More than half the people voting for Brown are voting AGAINST health care reform. Believe me, I work with a 100 of them. 99, I'm the other 1.

Posted by: obrier2 | January 15, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Brown basically opposes Romney care which despite it's problems is quite popular in Mass.

The federal health care bill is basically a Republican bill from 1974.

Posted by: MerrillFrank | January 15, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

When will you people get it, this so-called health care proposal is nothing more than a take over of power, it has absolutely Nothing to do with health care. Get a clue- for all you clueless people need to understand it's about ideology and corruptness. I don't know how to say it any plainer. It is just like entiment domain, the government wants to use health care to control your lives.

Posted by: boski66 | January 15, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, It may seem strange to you but not to the majority of our citizens. I think we would both agree that the health care system in the US needs overhauled. In fact, I think there is minimal opposition to universal health care or covering pre-existing conditions.

Lets start over and insist that all factors affecting the subject go on the table. Everyone puts skin in the game and no skin grafs are allowed. All stakeholders must feel the pain of change if we, as a nation, are heal the wounds that divide us and assure health care coverage for all US citizens.

The current legislation before Congress and the process that generated it makes most Americans sick. We can do better, we must do better and we will do better when we start anew.

Posted by: gkoedel | January 15, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

They should have gone to reconciliation a long time ago, like Republicans did with tax cuts for the rich and the prescription drug benefit (for big pharma)

don't know what the problem is. Democrats should not be trying to appease the right, and they should dance with the ones who brung em.

Posted by: owldog | January 15, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Yep; the Dems have every right to pass it regardless of votes. Wonder how much they could come up with after the Nebraska bribe , Louisiana purchase and Union dues to get another vote???

Posted by: jackbrumbelow7 | January 15, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Should Democrats pass health-care reform even if Martha Coakley loses? ABSOLUTELY! ASAP!

One thing I do not get, perhaps someone in MA can explain it: why, when MA has an insurance safety net, would they vote to deny the rest of us that option? Hello? If I lose my insurance will MA voters take care of me?

Posted by: Dr_JES | January 15, 2010 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Health care will be dead if Brown wins. How many vulnerable Dems do you think would vote for it if they can't win in MA?

The administration is learning that the hope thing is a lot easier than the change thing.

Posted by: ted22 | January 15, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Ezra Klein thinks it would be preverse if the health care bill does not pass if Coakley loses. Regardless of the outcome on Tuesday, the bill should not pass because its a monstrosity and probably unconstitutional (people forced to buy insurance, taxed not on the basis of income but union membership, public funds used to bribe senators, some states treated better than others). It also disregards the will of the majority. A majority of Americans want health care reform but not the one proposed by Congress. The argument that Coakley ran a bad campaign was already used in Virginia. In New Jersey the excuse was that Corzine was not liked. Coakley is in trouble because people want a change and change will come if not next Tuesday it will come in November.

Posted by: acahorvath | January 15, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

The Demorats should not push this HC monstrosity through, regardless if Coakley wins or loses. The fact that the race is so close and Brown supporters are anti HC bill, donating 1M in just one day speaks volumes.

Posted by: inmanorj | January 15, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Aren't you even mildly ashamed of cherry-picking the polling data on this? You cite a single Gallup poll showing a statistically insignificant plurality favoring reform. Yet there are far more polls showing the public being opposed to reform by double-digit amounts. Indeed, the RCP average is that opponents outweigh supporters by 10.3 percentage points. Of equal importance, the trend in the RCP average shows growing opposition, not the growing support that you claim. []

Enacting such a major piece of legislation in the face of such strong public opposition [and without bipartisan support] is historically unprecedented. Rather than pretend the public supports the flagrantly corrupt process by which this bill is being pushed along in Congress, it would be better for you to attempt to explain to your readers why a plan of this size and significance needs to be steamrollered over the objections of the majority of voters.

Posted by: conoverc | January 15, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

Hey Dems.... Keep going.

Ignore the people's will. Do not read the "tea leaves". If you have not figured out yet that the "worm has turned" then you might as well continue with your "blinders on" blundering with resolution off the political cliff.

With your "tin ear" you will wake up after the 2010 election in November to find that you control a "Lame Duck" Presidency and nothing else.

Then in 2012 goes Obama's presidency with the election of President Palin; after which it will be decades before you can recover; and then only when a "New" brand of democrat has emerged from your pary's cocoon.

Go for it. What you got to lose (other than elections that is)

Posted by: bokay120 | January 15, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

urgent memo to Klein, firedoglake, kos et al.: I told you earlier today we have this thing covered. Unless them buses from vermont don't arrive to "vote", or unless our goons from the panthers don't "help orient" arriving voters, we should have this puppy in the bag. Quit sliming our newest senator. Go back to the talking points we gave you before: need to "make the American taxpayer whole", quake caused by Bush, senate dysfunctional, and pivot, pivot pivot, we're all about the pivot. D.F.

Posted by: truck1 | January 15, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Here is the most bizarre part of Klein's article that no one has touched on-"and that 60 Democrats would be voting for this bill had Ted Kennedy not died of brain cancer." What? Really? So by that logic, the Democrats would have only had 59 votes if Ted Kennedy hadn't died of brain cancer AND Ted Stevens hadn't been indicted on corruption charges. No wait, I mean they would have had 58 if Kennedy hadn't died of brain cancer AND Ted Stevens hadn't been indicted AND Rudy Guliani hadn't been diagnosed with prostrate cancer during his Senate race. No wait, they would have had 57 if Kennedy hadn't died of brain cancer AND Ted Stevens hadn't been indicted AND Rudy Guiliani hadn't been diagnosed with prostrate cancer during his senate race AND Al Franken had been more successful as a stand-up comic and less successful as an election grabber. Oh no, wait! I forgot! They actually would have had 58 again if Ted Kennedy hadn't died of brain cancer AND Ted Stevens hadn't been indicted AND Rudy Guiliani hadn't been diagnosed with prostrate cancer AND there was no Coleman/Franken matchup because Wellstone missed his flight. BUT if Wellstone had lived but had retired from the Senate to run for governor and had beaten Pawlenty in 06...and if Thomas Edward Campbell had LOST his 1920 re-election bid as Arizona's governor, then...the what if's go on and on. It is completely ridiculous to make the argument that if life hadn't happened the Dems would have had the votes, THEREFORE morally it should be considered that they have the votes anyway. People die. People resign. People retire. People get indicted. Life happens and the only votes that count are from the CURRENT Senators. Don't predicate your argument on the assumed vote of a deceased senator.

Posted by: mondomex | January 15, 2010 10:31 PM | Report abuse

"The Massachusetts election does not change the fact that a large majority of the Senate is committed to voting for this bill..."

And while you're using this to justify steamrollering this bill through, why not look to see what the majority of those who must live under this bill think?
"Public support for health care reform continues to decline, as 34 percent mostly approve, while 54 percent mostly disapprove..."

How does a young liberal shill justify this other than "We know best" and "The public is just stupid".???

Posted by: WrongfulDeath | January 16, 2010 9:02 AM | Report abuse

If the MA legislature had not changed Teddy's own senate succession rule, the HC bill would have died with him anyway. The arrogance the dems continue to show on this issue is the only transparent part of the whole bill. The country doesn't like it, but they who know better than the governed are going to cram it down their throats!

Posted by: covtxrider | January 16, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

I find it very unsetteling that you, the Washington Post, and the administration thinks that in this REPRESENTATIVE Government that this health care crap sandwich should still be passed when it is PLAINLY clear that the American people DO NOT WANT IT!

Remember? They work for us! They are PUBLIC SERVANTS! This is not yet Obama's nanny state where we are patted on the head and told they will do what they deem best for us.

No this bill should not pass. The people do not want it!

Posted by: Patriotparty1 | January 16, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Ezra: "Meanwhile, the most recent Gallup poll showed a slim plurality favoring passage of the bill."

Gallup is an outlier. The consensus of the multitude of polls is that there is strong opposition to the reform bill(s):

Posted by: tbass1 | January 16, 2010 9:15 PM | Report abuse

message to klein and all liberal bloggers: at this suspenseful point (and who said we were no drama what a bunch of nimrods!) stay on the fence. If she wins Axelrod is on all the Sunday shows next week and will give you guidance. If she loses (doubtful) Lieberman, Nelson, Bayh and others will get all wee weed up. We're gonna strap depends on them and they will vote with us anyway. The people will eat this crap sandwich and they will like it. Keep falsifying poll result on healthcare plan -- whitehouse superbowl party for Klein is riding on it. DF

Posted by: truck1 | January 17, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse

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