In the wake of the Bay State blowout last night, Washington's wonks are pondering the options to keep an overhaul of health care alive. But the longer they ponder, the less time there is to make a decisive move.
Where's White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel?
Where's White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel? Alex Brandon/AP
The most viable option to keep the bill's heart beating is to convince, cajole, or beat the House into taking up the legislation as passed by the Senate—right away. Fixes can be made later, but momentum lost now wouldn't be easy to regain.
The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn suggests the cajole route in a letter entitled "Dear Nervous & Frustrated House Democrat." But the decision that rests with the House is clear, he writes, "It's up to you."
Even with the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority in the Senate coming to a close, it might just take a bracing dose of Rahm to galvanize the House in a hurry.
The notoriously tough White House Chief of Staff and former House Democratic strategist has taken a cue from his current boss and stayed behind the scenes on health care. But that may not last any longer.
Not everyone thinks Emanuel should be unleashed, though, with some blaming him for encouraging Senate leaders to spend too much time trying to court problematic Senators like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson.
But who would better suited than "Rahmbo" to talk tough to the House today?
Cohn's colleague, Jonathan Chaitt predicted yesterday before the Massachusetts election that the Democrats would just freak out and fail on health care:
The GOP's ability to ignore establishment nostrums in the face of defeat is its great electoral strength. Democrats, by contrast, have a congenital tendency to panic. Abandoning health care reform after they've already paid whatever political cost that comes from voting for it in both houses would be suicide.
Even this morning, House Majority Leader Pelosi told reporters the Democrats will move forward with overhaul but offered no details. Aides say the leadership needs to calm everyone down first.
While Democrats are walking around blaming each other and/or calming down and/or telling the media that health care is dead, Republicans are not trying very hard to suppress their glee and claim Massachusetts as a referendum on health care.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate shouldn't vote on health care again until Scott Brown is sworn in. On the Senate floor this morning, Sen. John McCain called for restarting bipartisan talks.
But a Democratic slowdown now give the Republicans a chance to reframe overhaul, which Democrats are naturally wary about after the months of party-line bickering and votes on health
Of course, the Senate bill isn't easy for liberals to swallow. There's no government-run health plan, subsidies to help lower income people buy health insurance are stingier and the marketplace designed for them to purchase coverage isn't necessarily going to be nationwide. And moderates may be spooked by the Republican win as a symbol of the unease Americans feel over what's going on with health care in Washington.
Yes, Democrats could start over. Yes, they could undo all the deals that have made them look bad and try again to court Republicans. But the odds of those paths being more successful than one last partisan push seem long.