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Did Democrats Just Kill the Health Care Bill?

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They say you don’t appreciate what you had—or almost had—until you lose it.

So let’s look at what we might lose if the health care reform bill stalls after last night’s election results: 30 million Americans—a population bigger than Texas—who would have had health insurance will remain uninsured. And many Americans will continue to be denied coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

I wonder if—in the months and years to come—Democrats will look back at this moment and deeply regret the missed opportunity to reform the nation’s health care system.

I won’t pretend to know what last night’s Senate election upset in Massachusetts means for the future of the health care bill, but there’s no doubt the political landscape has shifted dramatically. That’s just simple math: With 41 Republicans in the Senate, it seems unlikely that the current reform bill can pass. (Some suggested reading: Politico has a good story on the political implications; and Burka publishes an interesting missive from a dejected health care lobbyist.)

No one is truly happy with the current health care reform plan: Conservatives hate the cost and the expanded role for government; liberals hate the lack of a public option and the prominent role for insurance companies; and libertarians hate the mandate that every American buy health care. It’s not the plan I would have designed if I were lord of the Universe.

But for all its imperfections, the bill, in the big-picture view, has many benefits. Not only would 30 million people be insured, but after decades of a widening disparity in this country between rich and poor, the health care reform would transfer a lot of wealth back down the income ladder. The bill essentially would take money from the rich to pay for health care for middle- and lower-income Americans.

You would think most Democrats would be downright giddy about that kind of wealth redistribution. Yet many liberals have been lukewarm about the bill and some are downright hostile to it, feeling that Obama has betrayed them.

I suspect a lot of Democratic-leaning voters in Massachusetts fell into that category.

The Bay State isn’t as hostile to Republicans as its national reputation—let’s not forget that Mitt Romney was governor up there not long ago. But in senate and presidential elections, it’s about as solidly Democratic as any state gets. In 2008, Obama won 62 percent of the vote in Massachusetts. That barn-burner John Kerry was reelected to the Senate with 66 percent of the vote.

In fact, Republicans comprise only about 12 percent of registered voters.

And yet the Republican won handily yesterday—by a comfortable 52-47 spread—after a campaign in which he plainly said he planned to go to D.C. to kill the health care reform bill.

What that tells me is that a large number of Democrats and independents who supported Obama just 14 months ago either voted for a Republican with an anti-health reform platform or simply weren’t energized enough to vote.

If health care reform dies, many Democrats—especially the ones in Massachusetts—will have no one but themselves to blame.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.