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What a GOP Victory in Massachusetts Could Mean to Health Reform

   January 19, 2010

Massachusetts Democrats usually don't need to worry about U.S. Senate elections. Only one Senate race in recent memory caused the Democrats real concern and that pitted a fairly popular former GOP governor, Bill Weld, against Sen. John Kerry in 1996.

Besides that high-profile race, recent Senate races in the Bay State have been slam dunks for Democrats.

But the current race to replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy has recently been transformed from a Democrat with a 30-point poll lead into a tight race.

Massachusetts voters will head to the polls today to decide on their next senator and the results will affect the health reform debate in Washington—and could impact the Congressional elections in the fall.

But what will really happen if Republican Scott Brown is able to beat Democrat Martha Coakley? Here are three questions and answers about the Massachusetts Senate race and its impact on healthcare and national politics:

If Brown wins, is health reform dead?
U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) has said a Brown victory will kill health reform, but it's more likely that a Republican in Kennedy's old seat would wound—and not kill—health reform.

Brown has pledged to be the "41st vote" against health reform, which would allow Republican senators to filibuster health reform. The filibuster could be used to kill the legislation, but more likely the GOP would use the threat as a way to get Democrats to compromise on certain health reform provisions, such as taxes and social issues, including abortion.

But there is a way Democrats can pass health reform legislation without Republican support. They could use "reconciliation," which is a complicated process that requires a simple majority vote of 51 votes in the Senate and removes the filibuster threat.

The Democrats could also move quickly on health reform legislation, such as approving the Senate bill, which is considered the more conservative legislation, and pass the bill before Brown even takes office.

If Brown wins, and no recount is needed, the new GOP senator would begin in about two weeks. According to The Boston Globe, Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin would need to certify the vote and town clerks would need to wait 10 days to allow all ballots to arrive from overseas. State election law says that the results would need another five days to get to Galvin before the new senator could be sworn in.

This means Democrats would have slightly more than two weeks to ram through legislation or they could work with the GOP when Brown takes his seat.

By either rushing a vote or using reconciliation, Democrats could be seen as desperate, and moving forward without Republican input could hurt the party in Congressional elections this fall. On the flip side, passing a bill quickly or through reconciliation would give Democrats a bill they would support more than if they worked with Republicans.

If Brown wins, does that mean Massachusetts opposes health reform?
Massachusetts has been at the forefront of the health reform movement. The Bay State implemented its own reform in 2006 that requires nearly all Massachusetts residents buy health insurance.

Les Masterson is an editor for HealthLeaders Media.

Follow Les Masterson on Twitter.

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