"I will go to the animal shelter and get you a kitty cat. I will let you fall in love with that kitty cat. And then on some dark, cold night I will steal away into your home and punch you in the face!" — Sue Sylvester
That’s about what it feels like to be a progressive Democrat in Massachusetts right now. We’ve been hit hard in the gut and we’re down on one knee as we try to re-inflate our bruised lungs.
I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet that I’m about to be represented in the U.S. Senate by a walk-and-talk Ken doll who had his American Idol-losing daughter make robocalls on his behalf. Seriously, think about that again for a second.
Coakley’s robocallers? Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Brown’s robocallers? Curt Schilling and his daughter.
But it’s over, it’s done. There’s nothing left to do but cry into my beer and ponder what might have been. And, of course, worry myself into an ulcer over whether any of what President Obama promised us in his campaign can still happen.
Let’s not forget — Democrats still hold an 18-seat majority in the Senate. But as Jon Stewart noted, Democratic math seems to think a majority of 100 is 60. What does that mean for the President’s agenda? It’s tough to say, and it probably depends on which issue you’re looking at.
Healthcare reform is obviously the biggest one. Now, Congress as a whole has two real options: either they can try and pass a reform bill before Brown is seated (could be up to 15 days, according to the Boston Globe), or they can wait for Brown to be a senator instead of a senator-elect to try and get something done.
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Both approaches come with significant peril. That 15 days is probably not long enough for the House to make changes to the existing Senate bill and send it back for a final approval before going to the President. The House could, instead, opt to pass the Senate bill word-for-word, which means it goes right to the President’s desk. But the House doesn’t really like the Senate bill, so what they’ll do is anybody’s guess.
The other option is equally unpalatable for Democrats. Wait for Brown to get seated and see what happens. The shoestring alliance the Democratic party (and the two left-leaning independents) have could fall completely apart now that the filibuster is a genuine threat. Without the ability to force a cloture vote, some conservative Democrats could bail on the bill entirely, believing it can’t pass anyway, so why stick your neck out? Senators Bayh (D-IN), Lieberman (I-CT), Nelson (D-KS), Conrad (D-ND), and Lincoln (D-AR) could all jump ship. And there definitely aren’t enough Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe moderates to make up the difference.
There is another path to reform, albeit an extreme one. The "nuclear option" is the term given to declaring the filibuster unconstitutional and passing a bill with a simple majority in the Senate. Even if the moderate and conservative Democrats bailed on the bill, the left-wing of the caucus could probably pull together 51 votes in favor of a bill. But the nuclear option has far-reaching effects: it would be tough to go back to a filibuster-friendly Senate, and any senator in a close race can count on their vote on the nuclear option coming back to bite them in their election. And there aren’t 51 senators willing to sacrifice their career over the one health care vote.
And health care isn’t the only contentious issue that might be in trouble. When the GOP finds a strategy that works, they don’t back away from it very quickly. Say goodbye to many gay rights issues, campaign finance reform, anti-global warming action, additional gun control measuresâ€¦the filibuster will become the vogue Democratic bill killer.
So the entire Democratic agenda comes crashing down one special election in the bluest of states, where a Republican came out of nowhere to win. Is the situation really that dire? It might be if the Democratic leadership doesn’t grow some teeth. It’s going to take some incredibly hard work to keep even the 59 seats the party currently has with several seats up for grabs this fall. Going into the rest of the legislative session with a renewed vim and vigor and willingness to fight might be the only thing that saves them.