I was surprised when I saw the following transcript from Barney Frank’s memo to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow (via American Spectator):
I have two reactions to the election in Massachusetts. One, I am disappointed. Two, I feel strongly that the Democratic majority in Congress must respect the process and make no effort to bypass the electoral results. If Martha Coakley had won, I believe we could have worked out a reasonable compromise between the House and Senate health care bills. But since Scott Brown has won and the Republicans now have 41 votes in the Senate, that approach is no longer appropriate. I am hopeful that some Republican Senators will be willing to discuss a revised version of health care reform because I do not think that the country would be well-served by the health care status quo. But our respect for democratic procedures must rule out any effort to pass a health care bill as if the Massachusetts election had not happened. Going forward, I hope there will be a serious effort to change the Senate rule which means that 59 votes are not enough to pass major legislation, but those are the rules by which the health care bill was considered, and it would be wrong to change them in the middle of the process.
I would disagree with Rep. Frank in that 59 votes of one party should be sufficient to pass legislation if you can make that legislation palatable enough to just a few members of the opposition. If you can’t do that, you’re not writing legislation that is sufficiently centrist enough to sit well with the American people.
With that little quibble, I must express my respect for Rep. Frank to make such an honest accounting of the present political situation (even going so far as to say he’ll vote against any health care bill brought before Scott can be sworn in). Frank has made more than a few comments with which I find myself in surprising agreement, such as his support for a Fed audit and some other thoughts he has made respecting the political process and (somewhat) limited government. Since he is from Massachusetts, it only makes sense that while a hard-core liberal, he would push to respect the message that the Massachusetts election sends.
My last post expressed a skepticism about the ability of pragmatic Democrats to tip the scales of the debate. Frank is a powerful voice in Congress and on the left, and this admission of political reality should go a long way in disarming many on the left who want to use this as a clarion call to ram through as much as possible before it gets any worse.
I’d also agree with Frank in that the status quo can be improved upon, and I’d urge Congressional Republicans to use whatever short-term political cache they’ve earned to submit legislation opening up interstate competition and tort reform into the health care mix. Such a move would defuse the argument that Republicans are simply a party of obstructionism as has been alleged and demonstrate that there really is a more moderate path to go down regarding health care reform.
In any case, this statement by Frank is just more proof of the devastating impact Scott Brown’s victory has had on the Democratic agenda. That doesn’t mean that now the Republicans should automatically get their way on everything, nor does it mean that responsible efforts at reforming health care should be abandoned. But it does mean that Congress should take a more moderate and centrist approach toward governance that would benefit both President Obama and the Democrats.
Will the President and Democratic leadership listen to the gauntlet being thrown down by Senator-elect Brown with the tacit support of Rep. Frank? We’ll see.