If Brown Takes Coakley Down, Whither Health Care?

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I'm still not convinced that the chances of Scott Brown beating Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts special election are as high as 50%.  I would like this to be true, but the universe is not here to please me--though Martha Coakley's nearly unprecedented gift for putting her foot in her mouth certainly seems to be.

Nonetheless, I think it's worth speculating, as my colleague Derek Thompson already has:  what if?  What happens to health care?

 

The progressive pundits seem to be pretty united in their belief that this is no big deal, nothing to see here, move along--either they'll rush through a compromise, or the House will pass the Senate bill unchanged.  The libertarians I know, on the other hand, are equally convinced that this means the death of the bill.  At this point, there are clearly a fair number of Democrats who would really rather not pass this, but are afraid to defy their party.  If all they have to do is stall long enough to let Brown take his seat, well, that's not hard to do, especially since Stupak seems so far pretty adamant about accepting the Senate compromise.

Moreover, Brown's election probably makes a bunch of Blue Dogs even more nervous than they already are--when they're already about as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  How much discipline can the leadership exert on those quailing members, given how shaky many of their campaigns are looking?  If Scott Brown can get elected in Massachusetts with a pretty clear mandate to kill the health care bill--even in an off-year special election . . . well, how frightened are you really that Harry Reid's going to be around next year to take his vengeance?

The leadership could try to stall Brown's certification.  But I have no evidence that they are any less appalled by the idea than I am--and even if they were, I'm pretty sure they've already realized that it would be political suicide.  There is simply a limit to how brazenly legislators can flout the will of the folks who elect them. 

So I guess I'm in the camp that thinks a Scott Brown victory means that the health care bill goes down.  On the other hand, given the near-perfect correlation of one's opinion on the matter with one's opinion on the health care bill, I think it's pretty clear that we're all seeing what we want to see.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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