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  Health Reform Backers Brace for Possible Brown Win in Massachusetts  

Media reports and analyses are casting today's Senate election in Massachusetts as a dire threat to President Obama's plans to overhaul the country's healthcare system. In preparation for the possibility of Republicans getting a 41st Senate vote, Democrats are said to be looking for a way to salvage their reform effort. Reports, however, downplay the likelihood that what is portrayed as the preferred Democratic back-up plan -- having the House vote on the Senate bill -- will succeed.


The AP (1/18, Babington) described the White House and its "Democratic allies" as "panicky," as they "scrambled Sunday for a plan to salvage their hard-fought healthcare package in case a Republican wins Tuesday's Senate race."


AFP (1/18) noted that "Obama advisor David Axelrod denies that there is any panic," and says that Obama campaigned for Coakley "because 'he was asked.'"


The Washington Times (1/18, Dinan) noted that in his remarks, "Obama steered clear of healthcare -- the issue that Republicans say has fueled Mr. Brown's rise -- and instead reprised the anti-Wall Street, anti-Bush Administration language that carried him to victory in 2008."


The Wall Street Journal (1/18, Hitt, subscription required) reported that also appearing at the rally, Sen. John Kerry said of the President's agenda, "A lot of these measures are going to rest on one vote in the United States Senate. ... So understand what's at stake here, Massachusetts. It's whether we're going forward or we're going backwards." The Hill (1/18, O'Brien, subscription required) reports that Obama similarly said, "On many of the major questions of our day, a lot of these measures are going to rest on one vote in the United States Senate."


The Washington Post (1/19, Balz, Cillizza) reports that "some Democrats said Monday that the methods proposed for pushing through a health bill if they lost...in Massachusetts were unlikely to work, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) office signaling the House wouldn't adopt the version already passed in the Senate." Other "top Democratic aides on Monday" also "described" that plan "as an unlikely scenario." The Post adds, "Democratic officials, while publicly saying the bill remained on track, were facing the sobering reality that the effort, after seeming nearly assured of success just days ago, could collapse."


On its front page, the New York Times (1/19, A1, Herszenhorn, Pear) describes "the White House and Democratic Congressional leaders" as "scrambling for a backup plan," and adds that "have begun laying the groundwork to ask House Democrats to approve the Senate version." But, "some lawmakers, aides, and lobbyists described numerous obstacles to House approval of the Senate-passed bill." For example, "in an interview on Monday, Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan...said: 'House members will not vote for the Senate bill. There's no interest in that.'" Politico (1/19, O'Connor) also reports that "House Democrats privately worry that the rank-and-file would reject" the "doomsday strategy that requires them to approve the Senate healthcare bill," with one "aide" predicting, "Progressives and conservatives in the caucus won't go for it."


The Wall Street Journal (1/19, Adamy, Bendavid, subscription required) runs a similar analysis under the headline "Massachusetts Race Now Key To Health Bill," and McClatchy (1/19, Lightman) reports that the election "could deal a fatal blow" to reform efforts. AFP (1/19, Smith), meanwhile, says that the election could "possibly" decide "the fate of...Obama's ambitious reform agenda." Democrats "are scared," and "racing to draw up contingency plans." The AP (1/19, Fouhy) reports that "Brown has thrown Democrats for a loop, riding a wave of voter anger with Obama's healthcare plan and what critics call big government spending."


Meanwhile, The Hill (1/19, O'Brien, subscription required) reports, "Democrats are eyeing a parliamentary maneuver to sidestep the Senate's filibuster rules to pass healthcare if they lose their supermajority, one House lawmaker hinted Monday." Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA), who heads "the New Democrat Coalition taskforce on healthcare, suggested that Senate Democrats may use budget reconciliation to pass a health bill."


The AP (1/16, Espo) reported President Obama and Capitol Hill Democratic leaders "closed in on agreement Friday on cost and coverage issues at the heart of sweeping healthcare legislation." A White House statement "said there are 'no final agreements and no overall package.' But no further meetings were scheduled," and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) "said, 'Something should be going to CBO very soon.'"


The Washington Post (1/16, Montgomery) is one of several sources to report that the negotiators are rushing to finish before Tuesday, when the special US Senate election in Massachusetts "could hand Republicans their 41st vote in the Senate and the power to defeat Obama's top domestic initiative." Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) said Friday that if Republican Scott Brown wins the close race, "it will kill the health bill."


The New York Times (1/16, A13, Stolberg, Herszenhorn) said that Obama "has taken full control of the healthcare negotiations, casting himself for the first time in the role of mediator between the House and Senate during a 72-hour marathon of talks that have turned his White House into a de facto Congressional conference." The Wall Street Journal (1/16, A4, Meckler, Bendavid, subscription required) and Politico (1/15, Brown, O'Connor) also reported on the negotiations.


The e Washington Times


States concerned over health reform's added Medicaid costs. US News Weekly (1/15, Garber) reports, "In both the House and Senate healthcare bills, millions of low-income Americans would gain insurance under Medicaid. But because the federal government and states share the costs of that program, putting more people into it means a bigger burden for states, who say they just can't afford that." Democrats "merging the House and Senate bills say they are aware of these concerns and are trying to address them. Both bills would have Washington pay the full cost of Medicaid growth for the first three years and at least 90 percent after that forever. But that compromise still leaves much up in the air even as negotiators made a deal over other sticking points."



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