Policy-ish

Brown Blame Game Takes Washington By Storm

It should come as no surprise, we suppose, that the varied agendas of politicos, pundits, and activists color their views on who's to blame for Scott Brown's surprise win in Massachusetts.

President Obama holds a town hall meeting in Elyria, Ohio, Friday, Jan. 22, 2010. i i

President Obama concedes health overhaul hit a "buzz saw" during a town hall meeting in Elyria, Ohio, Friday, Jan. 22, 2010. Charles Dharapak/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Charles Dharapak/AP
President Obama holds a town hall meeting in Elyria, Ohio, Friday, Jan. 22, 2010.

President Obama concedes health overhaul hit a "buzz saw" during a town hall meeting in Elyria, Ohio, Friday, Jan. 22, 2010.

Charles Dharapak/AP

But how the blame game plays out is critical because it could inform how lawmakers move forward, if they do, on some form of health overhaul. And, three days after the election, culpability remains a matter of hot dispute.

Was it the Democrats' overreach on health reform?

Sen. Jim Webb, a centrist Virginia Democrat, said Brown's election was a referendum on health care and government progress and called for the Senate to back away from the issue. Other moderates are hoping for a smaller bill that could attract more bipartisan support, something the public wants according to a post-Massachusetts election USA Today poll.

Or, was it the Democrats' excessive caution coupled with the public's impatience that pushed reliably liberal voters in Massachusetts to elect a Republican? Richard Trumka, the AFL-CIO president and leading labor voice, said voters were telling Washington, "We don't want excuses. We want action. We want you to fix these problems," including health care. A union poll found that workers still supported health care change, but the majority of those dissatisfied with the economy chose Brown.

For Democrats weighing their two best options for pushing ahead, one's preferred reading matters a lot. The choices are to start over with a less ambitious bill that could draw wider support, which may sound good to the Webb camp. Or the other route would be to have the House pass a second bill that the Senate would have to approve, too, without the filibuster-proof majority the Brown victory shattered.

Or, was the vote a much broader referendum on Democrats' overall leadership, as Republicans see it? House Republican Leader John Boehner of Ohio, said Wednesday, "we have to remember, this is not just about health care," before listing Democrats other top initiatives. That view suggests changing course to steer clear of health care and focus on jobs and the economy may be the best bet.

The one view that may matter the most may also remain the least clear. President Obama has seemed to waver among a 'jobs' approach that seems to echo Republicans calls for course correction; fast passage of the existing overhaul legislation; and a new, less ambitious version of the bill.

At a town hall in Elyria, Ohio, today, Obama acknowledged that the health legislation had "run into a bit of a buzz saw" but promised to "fight for real, meaningful health insurance reforms." But, he didn't offer a clear vision for patching the overhaul back together.

Weaver is a reporter for Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit news service.

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