WASHINGTON – Remember how Republican Scott Browns victory in Januarys Senate race in Massachusetts was supposed to represent a mortal blow to health-care reform?
Probably back to the drawing board, Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., declared the next day.
But rather than dooming the effort, Browns win appears to have helped Democrats refocus the legislation and their strategy for selling it.
Once on track to produce a bill that Republicans were prepared to depict as partisan and laden with special-interest perks, Democrats now expect to unveil legislation that costs less and more aggressively tackles health care inflation – a package they say could leave them less vulnerable in November.
It drops the Cornhusker Kickback that so infuriated voters and includes a few Republican ideas tacked on by President Obama.
Theres no government takeover of health care; theres an expansion of the private market, subsidies, more choice – I mean, its so much of what many of us had hoped for from the very beginning, said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., a reluctant supporter of the original Senate bill.
The House and Senate will launch the final legislative phase this week, with the aim of holding votes before the end of the month. The action will come in two phases.
First, the House will vote on the bill the Senate approved on Christmas Eve. Then each chamber is expected to consider a package of fixes offered under a budget rule known as reconciliation that will protect it from a GOP filibuster in the Senate.
Democrats could still fail to pass their bill, and Republicans are vowing an epic showdown on the Senate floor to derail the reconciliation package.
But since Browns election cost them their filibuster-proof supermajority in the Senate, Democrats have been more pragmatic. Though significant internal policy divisions remain, a new flexibility appears to have eased some ideological battles.
The loss also forced Obama to engage more forcefully to save his top domestic policy goal by assuming the role of chief negotiator, which many Democrats had urged him to take on months ago.
He has offered his own plan, in broad strokes, and convened a televised seven-hour summit in which he addressed major GOP criticisms. Both moves were key to restoring momentum, congressional Democrats said.
The fog has lifted, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., said. And I think people come to the conclusion that whatever the flaws, the status quo is not an option.