Health Care and the Elections

Brian Beutler notes the non-symbolic meaning of last night’s election results:

That creates some simple arithmetic. Yesterday, Democrats had 256 voting members in the House. By week’s end, they’ll have 258. Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could afford to lose no more than 38 Democratic votes on a landmark health care reform bill. Next week, after Owens and Garamendi are sworn in, she can lose up to 40. For legislation this historic and far-reaching, she’ll need every vote she can get — and both seem likely to support reform.

Garamendi is a liberal, and though Owens now represents a GOP-leaning district, here’s what he said about the bill at a debate last week with Doug Hoffman and Dede Scozzafava: “I think moving towards this legislation is very appropriate. I think the type or the form of the public option included in this bill is reasonable. It is not one that allows people to move to the government option if they already have health insurance overage. So it’s not going to control a significant segment of the population.”

The overwhelming lesson of 2009 in Washington DC has been, I think, that the cold hard facts about vote counts matter more — a lot more — than airy considerations about momentum and the like. Barack Obama inspired America with his campaign for change and hope and blah blah blah but what happens is what Ben Nelson and/or Olympia Snowe will vote for. The governor of New Jersey doesn’t have a vote on health care or energy or financial regulation or the budget or anything else. The Representative from the 10th District of California does, and so does the Representative from the 23rd District of New York. One can debate the larger meaning of it all as much as one cares to, but the situation is what it is. Public policy in New Jersey will shift somewhat to the right, in Virginia it will probably shift a lot to the right (less constraint from the state legislature), and on the federal level it will shift slightly to the left.