The impact on health care

THE IMPACT ON HEALTH CARE…. To hear a certain cable news network put it, a couple of gubernatorial wins for Republican candidates undermines the chances of health care reform.

As it turns out, the Republican spin is largely backwards. Neither McDonnell nor Christie will have votes on health care reform in Congress. But the Democratic candidates who won yesterday will. Brian Beutler raises a good point.

Most of the commentary about last night’s elections has centered around Republican pickups in the New Jersey and Virginia statehouses. But what’s gone largely unnoticed is that the two congressional seats up for grabs last night both went to Democrats, and that will have immediate ramifications for health care reform.

The NY-23 seat abdicated by Republican John McHugh (who resigned to become Secretary of the Army) went to Democrat Bill Owens — the first Democrat to hold the seat in over a century. And the CA-10 seat abdicated by Democrat Ellen Tauscher (who resigned to become Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs) went to Democrat John Garamendi.

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.

They sure do. In fact, by winning both of yesterday’s congressional elections, Democrats have not only managed to expand their House majority, they’ve also moved the caucus ever so slightly to the left. Bill Owens is a moderate, but he’s more liberal than the Republican he’s replacing, John McHugh, and he’s endorsed a progressive approach to health care reform.

Likewise, Garamendi is more liberal than Tauscher was, and he, too, favors a progressive approach to health care reform.

In this environment, every vote counts, and Democrats just picked up two more that are likely to prove helpful.