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A brutal lesson for Democratic leaders

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Jan. 20, 2010 at 7:45 pm |
January 20, 2010 6:00 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

To paraphrase George W. Bush, the Democrats took a thumpin’ Tuesday in Massachusetts.
It hard to imagine how a single state election could have served up more grief for President Obama and the Democratic leaders in Congress.

Massachusetts was, and probably still is, the bluest state in the Union. It had not sent a Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1972.

The election pitted Scott Brown, a flea on an underdog’s belly, against Martha Coakley, who’d won statewide election as attorney general. At stake was the Senate seat occupied by uber-Democrat Ted Kennedy for close to half a century.

Brown campaigned against the Democratic plans for national health care reform – the signature issue of Barack Obama and Kennedy himself. The Republican’s campaign took off when he began billing himself as the crucial 41st vote to block the legislation in the Senate. And, he won decisively. However inept a campaign Coakley ran, someone like Brown could not have upset a Massachusetts Democrat with a pulse unless the national winds were blowing hurricane-hard against Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and their agendas.

Cause and effect: Within hours of Brown’s election, Obama was signaling his interest in a compromise health reform bill. Sen. Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat, said, “Republicans have a lot of good ideas.” That’s likely to become a common theme – on a lot of issues – in coming months.

The health care bills were the lightning rod that brought public anger sizzling down on the Democratic Congress. They were the focus of the angry tea party demonstrations during last August’s town hall meetings. Opponents of “Obamacare” engaged in shameless demagoguery against the legislation. But Democratic leaders engaged in shameless vote-buying to get it through.

The process started to verge on corruption. For his vote, Sen. Ben Nelson won special Medicaid-funding privileges for his state, Nebraska. One of the worst moments came last week, when Obama struck a deal with labor leaders to give unions special protection from a crucial cost-control measure, the Senate’s proposed tax on ultra-generous “Cadillac” insurance plans.

Those plans are a big driver of health care inflation, and many powerful unions have secured them for their rank-and-file. There’s no moral rationale for imposing the tax on some Americans while shielding others.

Pelosi and Reid must now salvage what they can from the wreckage. They’ll have to win over Republican centrists, who have suddenly gained immense brokering power in the Senate. This might even result in a cleaner health care bill, eventually. Stranger things have happened – on Tuesday, for example, in Massachusetts.

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