As much as I firmly believe that Scott Brown’s victory in Tuesday’s special election in Massachusetts was rooted in a sentiment far bigger than simply a referendum on the Democratic Party’s efforts to reform the American health care system, there is no denying that the tea leaves have health care written all over them.
Almost immediately after we knew of the result from the Bay State, Virginia Sen. Jim Webb–no stranger to a shocking result in a post-2008 statewide election–separated himself from the Democratic Party establishment and stated firmly that all votes with regard to health care reform in the Senate should be suspended until Brown was seated.
It certainly seemed like the right thing to say. Brown was elected, fair and square, and it’s only fair that he have the chance to represent those who elected him with regard to the debate over perhaps the largest entitlement program in the nation’s history. It was also the politically expedient thing to do, given the sentiments which rocketed Brown past Democrat challenger Martha Coakley–who held a 30-point lead only a month before the election–toward his selection as the successor to Ted Kennedy.
Whatever the motivation, a bunch of Democrats have since followed suit. Check out this fantastic list of bandwagon-jumpers I received yesterday from the office of House Republican Whip Eric Cantor:
- Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA): Costa Calls For An Incremental Approach. “I’ve maintained for months now that incremental reform in the health care package would make much more sense from my perspective,” said California Rep. Jim Costa, one of the last Democrats to vote “yes” on the House bill. He said he’d like to see Obama tell voters that “we may have been overreaching” and then push for a scaled-back bill that focuses on things more people can agree on, like insurance reforms. He said it’s not just a question of the House bill versus the Senate bill. “For me, it’s broader than that,” Costa said. (Carrie Budoff Brown and Patrick O’Connor, “Fallout: Dems Rethinking Health Bill,” Politico 1/19/10)
- Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-IN): “I Cannot Imagine, From One Person, One Member From Indiana, That This House Would Accept The Senate Bill As Is.” Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) said, “We were fully expecting to go some kind of conference committee and work out those differences [with the Senate]. And there are still differences to work out. I cannot imagine, from one person, one member from Indiana, that this House would accept the Senate bill as is.” (Carrie Budoff Brown and Patrick O’Connor, “Fallout: Dems Rethinking Health Bill,” Politico 1/19/10)
- Rep. Baron Hill (D-IN): Open To Senate Bill If It Is The Only Option. House Blue Dog Rep. Baron Hill said, “I think it’s important to pass this legislation, I do.” If that means passing the Senate bill through the House, Hill said, “If that’s the only option in town, maybe that’s what we ought to do.” (Chris Frates and Meredith Shiner, “Hill: Maybe House should pass the Senate bill,” Politico, 1/19/10)
- Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN): The American People Don’t Believe The Answers We Are Currently Proposing Are Solving Their Problems. “It’s why moderates and independents even in a state as Democratic as Massachusetts just aren’t buying our message,” he said. “They just don’t believe the answers we are currently proposing are solving their problems. That’s something that has to be corrected.” (Jonathan Karl, “Bayh Warns “Catastrophe” If Dems Ignore Massachusetts Senate Race Lessons,” ABC News’ The Note, 1/19/10)
- Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA): Health Care Needs To Be Done Incrementally. “I think that we would get a good policy out of a series of bills that were brought up over the next several months,” Delahunt said during an appearance on MSNBC. … “”I think what we’re going to have to do is do it on an incremental basis,” Delahunt said. “I think we take those provisions, bring them to the floor, and vote on them.” (Michael O’Brien, “Dem Rep. Delahunt: Break Up Healthcare Bill In Wake Of MA Loss,” The Hill 1/20/10)
- Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA): Senator Casey Hopes The House Could Pass The Senate Bill. “I voted on Christmas Eve for the Senate [health care] bill. It’s a very good bill. I would hope the House could, at a minimum, pass that bill,” Casey added. “But, I’m not paid to be a head-counter in the House.” (Brian Beutler, “Senate Leadership To House: Health Care’s On You,” Talking Points Memo, 1/20/10)
- House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC): The Magic Number Is 50. “…I have always said that the magic number on health care reform is 50, not 60, and I do believe that we will have a health care reform bill …” (CNBC’s “Power Lunch,” 1/20/10)
- Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI): Probably Back To The Drawing Board On Health Care. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) told a local reporter, “It’s probably back to the drawing board on health care, which is unfortunate.” (Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, “Dazed Dems Rethink Entire Strategy,” Politico, 1/20/10)
- Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA): A Compromise Between House And Senate Bill Is No Longer Possible. The liberal congressman said he was “disappointed” in Tuesday’s election results—and that with Brown’s victory, “a reasonable compromise” between the House and Senate bills is no longer possible and support from GOP senators is now required to move the legislation. … “But our respect for democratic procedures must rule out any effort to pass a health care bill as if the Massachusetts election had not happened.” (Meredith Shiner, “Frank: Congress Should Not Bypass The Election Results,” Politico 1/20/10)
- Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA): Slow Down On Health Care Reform. “I think we do go slower on health care. People do not understand it. it is so big it is beyond their comprehension. And if you don’t understand it when somebody tells you it does this or it does that and It’s not true, you tend to believe it, even though it isn’t true. It’s hard to debunk all of the myths that are out there.” (Z. Byron Wolf, “Feinstein: “slow down” on health reform; Mass election part of a “sweep across the country,” ABC News’ The Note 1/20/10)
- House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD): We Are Determining What The Senate Can And Cannot Do. “We are determining what the Senate can and cannot do,” Hoyer said in remarks to a policy group. (Donna Smith, “US Democrats Study Viable Parts Of Healthcare-Hoyer, Reuters, 1/20/10)
- Rep. John Larson (D-CT): No One Here Supports The Senate Bill. “I don’t think you can find a member in here, prior to or after, who supports the Senate bill,” said Rep. John Larson, the fourth ranking Democrat in the House, after a meeting of the caucus tonight. (Brian Beutler, “Determined Or Delusional? House Leadership Sounds Optimistic On HCR,” Talking Points Memo, 1/19/10)
- Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA): House Dems Reject Senate Bill, Would Rather Do Nothing Then Pass Senate Bill. Some Democrats suggested the prospect of no health care bill passing was more likely that rushing to pass the Senate’s bill. “If it comes down to that Senate bill or nothing I think we’re going to end up with nothing. I don’t hear a lot of support on our side for that bill,” Massachusetts Democrat Stephen Lynch said. (Dana Bash and Deirdre Walsh, “House Dems largely reject idea of passing Senate health care bill,” CNN Political Ticker, 1/19/10)
- Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY): A New Health Care Strategy Is Needed. Weiner argued the Massachusetts results demonstrated that Democrats have to change their strategy on health care.”Large numbers of independent voters saying they’re upset about health care, that’s not just their fault, that’s our fault too,” he said. “And we have to think about what we’re doing wrong here, and to have a conversation as if nothing happened, whether you’re in Massachusetts or not , is being tone deaf.” (Dana Bash and Deirdre Walsh, “House Dems largely reject idea of passing Senate health care bill,” CNN Political Ticker, 1/19/10)
- Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY): The Best Thing To Do Is To Break The Health Care Bill Into Pieces. “I think what would probably be the best thing, from my perspective, for us to do the best thing on healthcare is to send pieces of the program — pass them here, send them to the Senate — and let the American people digest them bit by bit,” Yarmuth said during an appearance on Fox News. (Michael O’Brien, “Some Dems urge breaking up health bill after Mass. Loss,” The Hill, 1/20/10)
- Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO): We Are Going Too Far, Too Fast. McCaskill said Wednesday morning that the agenda is moving “going too far, too fast” and that it would be a “huge mistake” for Democrats to force a vote on a new bill in the Senate before the new senator from Massachusetts is seated. “As I said to somebody last night, everybody needs to get the Washington wax out of their ears and listen and pay attention that people out there believe that we are going too far, too fast,” McCaskill told POLITICO. (Manu Raju, “McCaskill: No Forced Senate Bill,” Politico, 1/20/10)
- Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA): Certain Portions Of The Senate Bill Must Be Changed. But as she left the Capitol late Tuesday night, Pelosi told reporters that the House is unlikely to take up the Senate bill in its current form. “I think everyone [involved in the health-care negotiations] agrees that there are certain things in the Senate bill that must be changed,” she said. “We do have our differences, and our members want to resolve those differences.” (Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery, “Democrats Ponder Health-Care Reform Plans In Wake Of Massachusetts Senate Race,” The Washington Post 1/20/10)
- Speaker Pelosi: “We Will Move Forward.” “We will move forward with those considerations in mind — but we will move forward,” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of the healthcare bill in a speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. (John Whitesides and Donna Smith, “Democrats Promise To Push Ahead On Health Bill, Reuters, 1/20/10)
- Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR): Democrats Need To Figure Out What The Next Step Should Be. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) said it was unclear how the leaders would – or should – process.”Everybody ought to take a deep breath today and figure out what the next step ought to be,” Pryor said. (Carrie Budoff Brown, “No Decisions By Senate Dem Leadership On How To Proceed,” Politico 1/20/10)
- Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI): Too Early To Tell If Democrats Abandon Comprehensive Approach. Stabenow said health care reform was not dead, and the Democratic leadership was committed to making changes to the system. But it was unclear Wednesday how they would go about it, Stabenow said. “It is just too early to say,” she said, referring to whether Democrats stick with a comprehensive approach or they scale back the bill or try to pass pieces of the legislation incrementally. (Carrie Budoff Brown, “No decisions by Senate Dem leadership on how to proceed,” Politico 1/20/10)
- Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI): Senate Bill Is A Non Starter For Most Members. Michigan Democrat Bart Stupak, who led the charge for language to restrict abortion coverage in the House bill, flatly rejected the Senate’s version of health care reform. “The Senate bill is a non starter for most members,” he said. (Dana Bash and Deirdre Walsh, “House Dems largely reject idea of passing Senate health care bill,” CNN Political Ticker, 1/19/10)
- Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD): “People Are Right To Be Upset With The Senate Bill.” Health care was also part of the debate and the people of Massachusetts were right to be upset about provisions in the Senate bill,” Mr. Van Hollen said, referring to “special deals” included in the bill to win the votes of Democratic senators and round up 60 votes. (Carl Hulse and David M. Herszenhorn, “Democrats Regroup On Health After Losing Seat,” The New York Times, 1/20/10)
- Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA): No Votes On Health Care Until Senator-Elect Brown Is Seated. “In many ways the campaign in Massachusetts became a referendum not only on health care reform but also on the openness and integrity of our government process,” Webb said in a statement. “To that end, I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated.” (Michael O’Brien, “Webb: Stop Senate votes until Brown is seated” The Hill, 1/19/10)
A week ago, most of these people would have defended to the death their plans to vote in favor of health care reform legislation as it stood. Some, like Congressman Stupak for example, would have expressed support on the condition that some minor changes be made. For the most part, however, they would have agreed that somewhere in the language of the bills which passed the House and Senate was the right bill for America.
Now, however, their opinions on where to go from here seem to run the gamut from “ram it through” to “go back to the drawing board.”
What will be interesting to watch is whether these Democrats and the others who have expressed dismay over the health care reform bills in their current state–such as my own congressman, Joe Sestak, for example–are doing so out of political convenience, or if they’ll actually back their sudden outspokenness with action. My guess is the former.