By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The Democrats are in a conundrum. Tuesday's stunning victory by Republican Scott Brown in the Massachusetts special Senate election has changed the mathematics of the future. Previously, with 57 Democrats and two independents behind him, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could overcome GOP efforts to filibuster the healthcare bill.
With Brown in the Senate, Reid's natural coalition becomes one vote short of 60, empowering the Republicans to block the bill--but only if they all stick together. For Reid and for the White House, this creates an almost irresistible temptation to slow the seating of Brown while trying to rush the healthcare bill to President Barack Obama's desk while they still have the votes to override the filibuster.
It's a bad idea.
If the election in historically Democratic Massachusetts was about anything it was about voters expressing their desire to rethink the whole healthcare debate. In choosing Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley the voters were saying--not that they did not want healthcare reform--but that they did not want either version of the healthcare bill being offered to them by the House and Senate.
This is a message that has not been lost on some of the cooler heads in the Senate, including Indiana's Evan Bayh and Virginia's Jim Webb--who said after Brown's election that the Senate should hold off on any further action on the healthcare bill until after Brown is seated.
Webb is perhaps telegraphing his intention to vote against cloture--at least on a temporary basis until Brown joins the Senate. If that is his plan, then even without Brown being seated Reid would still be at least one vote short of what he needs--making the hurry up with the healthcare bill on one side while dragging heels on seating Brown on the other strategy moot.
There is, however, a statesmanlike way out of the box. No one is claiming that Brown was not legitimately elected on Tuesday but before he can take his seat Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin has to certify him as the winner of Tuesday's election. That process should take about a week to 10 days but could stretch out for a much longer period. If it does, under the long count strategy some Democrats are advocating, it would leave the people of Massachusetts, the Senate and the nation in limbo.
The proper thing then is for interim Sen. Paul Kirk--the former Democratic National Committee chairman who was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the death of Edward M. Kennedy--to resign his seat immediately. By resigning, Kirk creates a vacancy that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick could fill by appointing Brown to the seat. In that way Brown can begin his service immediately, the process of completing the healthcare bill can move forward and the nation can see politicians from both sides of the aisle behaving, if not like statesmen then like the post-partisans Obama's election promised they would be.