In the absence of exit polls, pundits are reading whatever they want in the Massachusetts Senate race.
But one thing is clear. The switch of a 47-year Democratic seat to Republican control will test the staying power of the now-slimmer governing party in Congress. It will also be a test of the resolve of President Obama, now starting his second year in office.
At stake is the health care reform package. Will the 59-member majority in the Senate and 256-member majority in the House backpedal on this core issue? Or will the majority renew its commitment and show that it can govern effectively by getting a bill to the president?
The 1930s Depression era provides some lessons. Franklin D. Roosevelt faced attacks in his first year in office from the left and right. He could have succumbed to the general spirit of discontent and limited his ambitions for taking on difficult problems. Instead, he embarked on a campaign of persuasion. Congress passed a bold program, including Social Security.
If Obama and the Democratic majority believe their own rhetoric that health care reform is right, they must show their mettle and approve the overhaul. Anything short of that will reveal a shameful lack of courage.
The Senate has passed an amended version of the House bill. The House could simply pass that Senate version and send it to the president to sign. This is where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the other California negotiators, George Miller and Henry Waxman, will have to persuade their members.
It is clear that this is a "now or never" time. No bill is perfect and this one could be improved. For example, Congress needs to get real about reimbursements to states and physicians for services to the elderly and poor.
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