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Brown's Senate Win Creates Health Reform Dilemma for Democrats

Les Masterson, for HealthLeaders Media, January 20, 2010

In what many are calling one of the biggest political upsets in American history, Republican Scott Brown beat Democrat Martha Coakley in the special Senate election in Massachusetts Tuesday, which ends the Democrats' super majority in the Senate and could allow Republicans to filibuster health reform legislation.

Brown garnered 52% of the vote compared to Coakley, the commonwealth's attorney general, who picked up 47% of the vote. The Republican will complete the final two years of the late Edward Kennedy's Senate term.

With his victory, Brown will become the 41st vote against health reform, which opens the door for a possible Republican filibuster on health reform—or at the very least, it could force Democrats to give the GOP a place at the negotiating table.

Brown's victory is also being seen as a possible harbinger of things to come in the 2010 Congressional elections and may force Democrats to change their strategies in the fall elections. It could also push Democrats to back away from some provisions in the health reform legislation.

During his acceptance speech Tuesday night, Brown made it clear that he is against the current health reform proposals. He said people don't want a health reform bill that will destroy jobs, hurt Medicare, and run the nation deeper into debt.

"It is not in the interest of our state and our country, and we can do better," he said.

Brown's victory in "the bluest of blue states" didn't seem possible only a week ago, but Coakley's sluggish campaign coupled with an unpopular governor, growing discontent with the State House and Washington, and a new face in statewide politics that connected with voters created a powerful combination that led to Brown's win.

The victory leaves Democrats in Washington with the difficult choice of what to do with health reform. They could:

  • Rush through legislation, such as the Senate's bill, in hopes of passing the measure before Brown takes office.
  • Utilize the reconciliation option, which is a complicated process that could allow Democrats to remove any threat of Republican filibuster.
  • Work with Republicans in hopes of coming up with a reform proposal that would garner enough GOP support to pass without the filibuster threat.
  • Step back and start over on health reform.

Massachusetts health leaders react
Political pundits and politicians have had their say about Brown's victory, but what do Massachusetts health leaders think of the win and what will it mean for health reform.

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