Monday, January 18, 2010

The Massachusetts Special Election Can Determine Whether Obama Can Succeed in Accomplishing Anything

Within the next 24 hours we will know if the voters of Massachusetts have given the Republicans the one additional vote they will need to bring President Barack Obama's reform-oriented agenda to a halt. Polls show Scott Brown, a relatively unknown local conservative state legislator from Boston's suburbs, beating Massachusetts' popularly-elected Attorney General, Martha Coakley in tomorrow's special election, putting the president's reform oriented agenda in jeopardy.

The Republicans have spent the first year of President Barack Obama's term opposing everything which he pushed for while offering little to nothing in the way of alternative solutions. They opposed the economic stimulus package which saved jobs as well as the president's health care bill and they have given any indication that they will oppose the president's financial reform package, including his proposal to recoup the our losses by taxing the bankers (like the Europeans are doing) with excessive bonus packages.

Like the health care bill which the Democrats have wrangled over for the past year, Obama's proposed financial reforms are far from perfect. I don't know why, for instance, Obama would hand the Federal Reserve Board, which coddled Wall Street, primary oversight over the banks or why he wouldn't just break the banks which are "too big to fail" up so that they can not put the American taxpayer into the position of bailing them out again. But a bill is better than no bill and Obama's plan will limit the bankers' ability to shop for a government agency that would regulate them the least.

Massachusetts' voters, like their counterparts in New Jersey and Virginia, are understandably fed up at Washington. The Republicans economic policies brought this country to the brink of disaster. Their Democratic counterparts have done little to get us out of it. The stimulus package which the president sought was too small to reverse the job loss trend. The health care bill which the president hops to sign includes no public option while providing the insurance companies that jack up insurance premiums with new customers who are forced to buy insurance. To soften the blow the bill includes subsidies and an expansion in Medicaid funding. The bill reads more like a health insurance relief act than a health insurance reform bill, but that relief will provide some Americans who could not otherwise afford health insurance the means to buy it.

Voters in Massachusetts who do not like the health insurance bill, must keep this in mind: Their vote for Brown will affect Obama's entire reform agenda. Republicans aren't just opposing the president's health care plan; they are opposed to everything which the president has proposed and may yet propose. Giving Scott Brown the seat allows the Republicans to stop the president in his tracks for the next year and, assuming that the Democrats lose even more seats in Congress during the midterm elections, for the remainder of his first, four-year term in office.

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