by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
Republican State Senator Scott Brown defeated Democratic State Attorney General Martha Coakley in a special election for the Massachusetts Senate seat recently held by the late Ted Kennedy.
The margin was convincing. Brown won 52% of the vote to Coakley's 47%. Two minor party candidates split the rest.
For the Democrats, it was a stunning defeat. The seat had been held by Democrats since John F. Kennedy won it in 1953. It is currently occupied by an interim appointment, Democrat Paul Kirk.
Brown's victory throws the future of the Obama administration's healthcare legislation into question.
Some conservative Democrats, who were unenthusiastic about healthcare reform to begin with, are reportedly taking Brown's victory as permission to rethink the whole process.
According to veteran Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), "healthcare is hanging by a thread."
Brown campaigned as "the vote that will kill the healthcare bill." He made a practice of signing autographs "Scott Brown 41," meaning that he would be the 41st - and decisive - Senate vote to sustain a Republican filibuster that would doom the healthcare bill.
A Senate bill and a much different House bill are now in conference committee, where the differences are supposed to be resolved. The compromise bill that will be reported out of conference needs to go back to both houses of Congress for a final vote.
Senate rules require that 60 members agree to close debate and bring the measure to the floor for an up or down vote. Brown's victory now makes this highly unlikely.
Democratic Congressional leaders may have only two options to rescue the healthcare bill, neither of them politically attractive.
They could rush the healthcare bill to a vote before Brown is seated, while they still have the necessary 60 votes to end debate.
This option seems to have been foreclosed on election night, when Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) stated flatly, "I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated."
The day after the election, President Obama came to the same conclusion.
"The Senate certainly shouldn't try to jam anything through until Scott Brown is seated," he said. "The people of Massachusetts spoke. He has got to be part of that process."
The other option for Democrats would be for the House to pass the Senate bill word-for-word. In that case, the legislation would return to the Senate for a final vote with only 51 votes necessary to pass it.
House Democrats have generally been critical of the Senate bill, however, and are skeptical that they will be able to return to the issue in the future, if they pass the Senate bill now.
Most House Democrats oppose a tax on so-called "Cadillac insurance plans" in the Senate bill that unions see as a direct hit on their members.
Conservative Democrats, on the other hand, say the Senate bill does not go far enough in restricting taxpayer dollars for abortion.
"If you ran that Senate bill right now on the House floor, I'll bet you would not get 100 votes for it," said Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), the author of a controversial amendment to the House bill that restricted insurance coverage of abortions.
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), one of the champions of single payer healthcare, called for caution.
"If there isn't any recognition that we got the message and we are trying to recalibrate and do things differently, we are not only going to risk looking ignorant but arrogant," he warned.
BAD NEWS FOR ENDA?
The healthcare bill is not the only legislation put at risk by Brown's election.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has faced an uphill battle in the Senate, and Brown's victory does not help.
ENDA would expand federal civil rights laws - which already prohibit workplace discrimination based on race, gender, and religion - to include similar protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.
Even before Brown's election, ENDA's House of Representatives prime sponsor Barney Frank (D-Mass.) declared that "getting the 60 votes for it [in the Senate] is going to be tough.&" Now it will be tougher.
According to the wiki whip count site ActOnPrinciple.org, ENDA has 43 co-sponsors in the Senate, nine additional Senators committed to vote Yes, and 10 Senators "leaning Yes."
A "whip count" is a running tally of legislators who have committed to vote for or against a particular piece of legislation.
If the count is accurate, ENDA gets a maximum of 62 votes.
Both of Washington's senators, Democrats Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, are co-sponsors of ENDA.
But one of ENDA's Senate co-sponsors is Paul Kirk, who Brown will replace. That brings the Yes total down to 61, only one more than the 60 minimum needed to get an up or down vote on ENDA.
Under the circumstances, ENDA supporters must pick up every one of the "leaning Yes" votes to be confident of victory.
LGBT insiders are already talking about a "Coakley effect" - a Democratic pivot away from social issues and towards economic recovery.
An emergency meeting of LGBT major donors and lobbyists reportedly took place last week. Many in the room lamented that the political climate is not good for pushing a pro-equality agenda right now.
"If [Coakley] loses, all bets are off," said one attendee of the meeting. "The Democrats will stay away from social issues, and focus like a laser beam on jobs."
BROWN IS NOT OUR FRIEND
Brown himself is not a friend of the LGBT community.
While LGBT issues were not central to the campaign, Brown got significant assistance from the anti-Gay group National Organization for Marriage (NOM).
NOM was formed in 2007 to promote Prop 8, the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage passed in California in 2008. Since its formation, NOM has run anti-Gay media pieces nationwide. It was the largest single contributor to the Maine initiative to strike down the state's same-sex marriage law.
NOM reportedly financed a series of robo-calls for Brown's campaign.
According to reports, the robo-calls asked voters if they supported same-sex marriage. Only those who said they opposed same-sex marriage heard the second part of the call, strongly urging them to defeat the "radical" Coakley, a marriage equality supporter.
"It's important for people to know about the underground right-wing campaign Scott Brown is running," said Barney Frank before the election. "His plan is to benefit from the support of the most active, extreme conservatives while he falsely portrays himself as a moderate."
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