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Did Brown's Win Change Anything?

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Yesterday I argued that it's irrational for Democrats to freak out about health care the day after Scott Brown's win, given that the fundamentals remain the same. (I compared the reaction to the days after Ted Kennedy's death, when commentators widely and baselessly speculated that it would cause an upsurge of support for reform.) Ross Douthat, in his now-familiar role as Chait gainsayer, gainsays:

Kennedy’s passing neither changed the balance of power in the Senate, nor confronted wavering legislators with the possibility that their careers would end, suddenly, in November of 2010. Brown’s victory does both. As of last night, the fundamentals of the situation have changed.

Well, let's take these two reasons in order. Did Brown's win suddenly alter the 2010 landscape? No. It was one race pitting a highly skilled and attractive Republican against a lazy, bumbling Democrat. Moreover, leading up to the vote, Democrats expected Coakley to lose. As I wrote:

I know many people who are plugged into Democratic circles, and every indication I had was that the party expected to lose last night -- probably by a much, much wider margin than they actually did.

As for point number two, did Brown's win change the balance of power in an important way? It would have if the Senate hadn't voted yet. But it has. If Coakley won, the game plan for reform was for the Senate and House to agree on a compromise plan, find 60 votes in the Senate and 218 in the House. Now the plan is either to just pass the senate plan in the House, or do that plus alter that bill through a reconciliation measure that requires 50 votes in the Senate.

You could argue that this new dynamic makes it slightly harder to pass a bill, as it forces the Democrats to use a procedure (reconciliation) that reduces some of their options for changing the Senate bill -- though the most important changes remain in play. On the other hand, I'd say that letting them pass the second round with just 50 Senate votes rather than 60 makes things easier.

All in all, I think I'm right. Brown's win did not alter the fundamentals, only the emotion of the moment.

Jonathan Chait is a senior editor at The New Republic.


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