If Brown wins, what will Democrats do?
They can try to pass health care before he can be seated. The problem is that it will strike people as unfair and undemocratic — brazen really. It will create a roiling populist revolt that will far outstrip anything we’ve seen so far. It also will be tough to pull off. There’s the issue of timing — could they cut a final deal and get an acceptable CBO score and all the rest of it before Brown arrived? Plus, there would be the heavier political headwinds created by Brown’s win and the above mentioned revulsion at the process. Would Blanche Lincoln be comfortable going along with this ploy? Would every Blue Dog who voted for the bill the first time around? Seems unlikely.
There are other routes: The Democrats could make another run at Olympia Snowe. This would be the easiest solution. But would they be able to address her concerns about affordability without another drawn-out negotiation (with time continuing to work against them) and without creating other problems in the bill? Also, if Brown won, it well might stiffen her resolve.
There’s always reconciliation. If they go that route, they no longer need 60 votes in the Senate. But my understanding is that they would have to send the bill back through committee. It would be a time-consuming process, making it impossible for Obama to do his “pivot” to jobs anytime soon. And a lot of the most popular features of the bill couldn’t be included, meaning Democrats would have to pass just the Medicare cuts and tax increases through the House and not lose any votes (again, in an environment where a Democrat lost in Massachusetts in an election defined by health care).
In theory, they could try to get the House to pass the Senate bill in its entirety. That means the unions give up the Cadillac loophole, the liberals eat every single one of their concerns, and they don’t fix their Stupak problem, which itself threatens to bring down the bill in House. A very heavy lift.
It wouldn’t be impossible for Democrats still to get it done if Brown won (and the leadership would be more desperate than ever to make it happen), but the odds would be against them. That’s why the stakes are so gigantic and Obama is going to Massachusetts. The fate of his signature piece of legislation — and perhaps his presidency — hangs in the balance.