Scott Brown beats Martha Coakley -- and life goes on

Eugene Robinson
Copyright 2010
Tuesday, January 19, 2010; 10:40 PM

Well, that was quick. I thought the Apocalypse would be, you know, more of a blockbuster production, with a lot of explosions and computer-generated effects. Instead, just a phone call of concession -- offstage, no less -- from Martha Coakley to Scott Brown. You???d think from the overheated commentary that this was the end of the world (as we know it). Instead of having 20 more votes in the Senate than the Republicans, the Democrats now have only 18 more votes. Run for your lives. From the Democratic Party???s point of view, losing the Senate supermajority can???t be construed as a net positive. But being left with an 18-vote majority isn???t usually the sort of thing that throws a party into abject despair. One side effect is that the poisonous dynamic that took hold as the Senate inched toward passing its health-care bill -- any member of the Democratic caucus could hold the entire process hostage with outlandish demands, which Majority Leader Harry Reid had to meet -- is a thing of the past. From now on, the Democratic leadership will have to peel off at least one Republican -- or else take other parliamentary routes that require just a simple majority. The way the Senate works right now, Reid has as much chance of snagging 10 Republican votes as he has of wooing one. (A bit of advice for the majority leader: Don???t pine too much over Olympia Snowe. She???s not that into you.) Either a bill is going to have pretty broad bipartisan support, or it???s going to have to get passed in a way that needs only 51 votes. No Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman can become King for a Day. It would be possible for a bipartisan, centrist, gang-of-14 type of coalition to essentially take control of the Senate by banding together. But there are so few Republican moderates left -- and there???s so much tea party fervor lurking in the upcoming GOP primaries -- that it would be hard for such a group to hold together. No wonder that everyone so quickly forgave Reid his gaffe about President Obama???s skin tone and elocution. Would you want his job? One other observation: There is -- unfortunately, as far as I???m concerned -- just one way to quickly and cleanly get health-care reform signed and delivered, and that is for the House to pass the Senate bill. That???s a lot for House progressives to stomach, but it???s hard for me to imagine that any Democrat will be better off this fall after having promised a reform bill and not delivered. And while it would be possible to get better legislation through the simple-majority ???budget reconciliation??? gambit, I wouldn???t advise Democrats to spend another two or three months on the subject of health care -- not if they want to avoid the next Apocalypse.

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