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Guest Editorial

T-minus six months and counting

By Bob Carragher

May 2010- I can’t believe it’s over. One of the first columns I wrote for Modern Metals covered the need to address health care reform. In the column, I compared Congress’ failure to tackle the issue to a tooth in which I lost a filling soon after moving to Washington. For months, I delayed going to the dentist and suffering through a root canal because I made less than $8,000 a year working on Capitol Hill.

Well, I bit the bullet (no pun intended) and had my root canal--along with a root extraction years later--but I still have that tooth.

And today, because of the perseverance of key members of Congress and a determined first-term president, America now has comprehensive health care reform. But for how long and at what price?

Health care’s aftermath
The fear and apprehension I experienced leading up to that root canal probably pales in comparison to the angst a number of politicians (most of them Democrats) are probably feeling now that their votes on health care reform have been recorded and counted.

They, much like the members of the famed Light Brigade, are now a part of history. All that remains is whether they will suffer the same fate as those cavaliers this fall, when Americans go to the polls to cast their vote in the 2010 midterm elections.

On Nov. 2, all 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats will be up for grabs and with them, the control of the 112th Congress when it convenes in early January.

Currently, Democrats hold a 253- to 178-seat majority over Republicans in the House, while controlling a 57 to 41 majority in the Senate, joined by two Independents who generally vote Democratic.

But even before the final votes on health care reform were cast, the storm clouds had been gathering for the Democrats in Congress. In November 2009, two Democratic governorships in New Jersey and Virginia changed parties. Then, on Jan. 19, in a special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who died of brain cancer last year, the Democrats lost their 60-vote, filibuster-proof majority when Scott Brown, a little-known state senator, toppled their hand-picked successor to Sen. Kennedy in a huge upset victory.

Jockeying for position
If the recent prognostications of the political pundits and pollsters hold true, President Obama and the Democrats are likely to be in for a very long evening on election night.

Peter Hart, the noted pollster with decades of experience in tracking the mood of the electorate, recently indicated, "Unless they get Democrats interested in this election, they’re going to get smoked."

In the House of Representatives, where the final health care reform vote prevailed by a 219 to 212 margin, 20 Democrats representing districts carried by the 2008 GOP presidential standard-bearer John McCain voted in favor of the bill. Eight Democrats representing districts carried by Obama in 2008 opposed the legislation.

Given the fact that the party occupying the White House tends to lose seats during off-year elections, these 28 candidates will surely find themselves in the crosshairs of the voters most engaged in the health care debate when November rolls around.

Turning to the Senate, there’s no lonelier a place in politics than the middle. Just ask Democratic senators Blanche Lincoln, Ark.; Ben Nelson, Neb.; or Mary Landrieu, La., who are all up for re-election in 2010.

Because of the uniqueness of the parliamentary rules of the Senate, most bipartisan legislation crafted and approved in that chamber is a byproduct of consensus among members occupying the middle ground. However, those votes, especially on controversial policy proposals, such as comprehensive health reform, usually come at a huge political price tag. That will certainly be the case this year.

Re-energize support
Six months, however, is an eternity in politics.

Between now and Election Day, President Obama and his congressional allies will be working hard to re-energize and shore up support within their Democratic base. With health care behind them, look for the president and Democrats in Congress to begin to move on core Democratic issues, such as pay equity and other gender issues, paid sick leave and possibly even immigration reform.

Democrats need to create a reason for their supporters to be energized going into this election. Without that energy, look for Republicans to win back control of one or both houses of Congress in November. MM

Bob Carragher is the former Washington affairs representative for the Metals Service Center Institute and an avid observer of Capitol Hill.

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