When the acting Democrats were voted in, everyone wanted healthcare reform. It was a very high general priority and the DNC made it part of their platform; they promised us health care reform and they won elections.
But since they took office, health care lost popularity. [Why this is the case is another article altogether, but in IMAO the American people lost a game of chicken to a mirror.] If just a quarter of a certain group of people change their mind about health care reform, support can go from +30 to -5 overnight (do those numbers sound familiar, Martha?).
But if I were the Democrats, I would have ordered Coakley to tank the election. Whether or not a decision was made, or an order was given, is pure speculation; the fact that Coakley tanked the election is not.
Let's go back to last week to see what the Democratic conundrum looked like. If they passed the bill, they'd be unpopular with the moderates they need for 2010. If they didn't pass the bill, they'd be unpopular with the liberals they need in 2010.
There were two extremes available. One would be to pass health care by any means necessary, including the nuclear option. Doing so would have been a giant white flag. The strategy that move indicates would be to appeal to their base to build a stronghold while conceding the majority back to the Republicans. But speculation that Democrats would use reconciliation to pass health care turned out to be untrue. And since they have made it a priority to seat Brown before continuing, it is obvious that cutting corners is not an option for them.
The other extreme would have been to drop healthcare altogether and do a complete pivot, trying to save face with the moderates. Doing so would alienate their base, which would kill their fundraising and put them in more jeopardy than the other extreme. On top of that they would be vulnerable to the RNC’s claims that they wasted year accomplishing nothing during an economic crisis, which would be difficult to defend. Although it is still a possible option, I don’t think that the Democrats are seriously considering it.
Short of turning the tide of general opinion within the next few months, their predicament had two major exits, and both involve the Republican Party. The first was to find at least one Republican to come along with the ride so the bill gets the bipartisan stamp, however weak. But it was difficult enough for them to get the Democrats in line and there was no reason for the Republians to involve themselves at all from a strategic perspective.
The second would be to force the Republicans to kill the bill so they could absolve themselves of its failure, claim due diligence to their base, and pivot back into the economy without losing face. This option was not possible, however, because they had a filibuster-proof control of the senate. Losing a Senate vote that they had previously counted on would indicate regression of the bill and mark the first loose threads of its unraveling. Without any recourse, the Republicans had absolutely no way to sink the bill on their own and therefore no reason to involve themselves in the process whatsoever.
Cut to present. With the filibuster back in play, the Republicans have the ability to go on the offensive and attempt to derail the health care bill once it comes back to the Senate. Whether they do or not doesn’t matter, it's their newfound capability that plays. Because if they decide not to act on their capability and let the Democrats pass healthcare, the bill will have a faint bipartisan stamp that the DNC needs for 2010. [The Democrats will at least be able to say that the Republicans had the opportunity to stop the bill and did not, which could be effecitve in general elections.] If the Republicans block the bill, the Democrats will be able to put the blame of its failure on the Republicans and allow their own fate to rest more heavily on the resurging economy.
There is no way the Democrats can prevent a little fallout from their mistreatment of health care, but either scenario will provide them with much needed damage control to soften the Republican edge and give them an opportunity to keep the three branches through 2012.
The Democrats are still in a very tough place with healthcare. But losing seat 41 opened up options that they didn’t have last week.