By Ian Swanson - 01/20/10 03:06 AM EST
Republican Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts could be a game-changer on much more than healthcare.
It’s not just that the victory deprives Democrats of the 60 Senate votes necessary to leap procedural hurdles. More importantly, it’s a sign that President Barack Obama’s power has diminished, and that voters are unhappy with at least some of his agenda.
Democrats, already fractious, are likely to be even more on edge.
Lawmakers already worried about addressing issues such as climate change and immigration may grow more anxious about taking politically dangerous votes in an election year where voters have suggested they are disillusioned with Washington.
An early legislative victim may be climate change, though its future was in doubt before the rumblings in Massachusetts.
Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who two weeks ago announced his surprise retirement at the end of the year, on Tuesday predicted the Senate would not take up a climate bill this year.
Republican and industry activists who oppose climate change legislation say Brown’s win strengthens their hand.
“What this will do, what a Brown victory will do, is place a focus on growing jobs and improving the economy, and if the perception still exists that cap-and-trade does not fall into that category, it will most likely get cast to the side,” said GOP strategist Ron Bonjean, a former aide to GOP leadership in both chambers.
But other analysts disagree that a Brown victory is a nail in the coffin for climate change legislation in 2010, which narrowly passed the House in June.
Christine Tezak, a veteran energy industry analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co., said in a research note Tuesday that if Brown's win derails Democratic healthcare legislation, Democrats will be left seeking other victories.
“While it is very easy to suggest that Congress may want to throw up its hands and do nothing for the balance of the year, incumbent Democrats will need a win – not inaction – to reverse what will be hailed as a significant defeat for their agenda and prove they can govern,” she wrote.
Clues on how the agenda will be impacted and how political power has changed will come in Obama’s state of the union address scheduled on Jan. 27, said Jason Johnson, an associate professor of political science at Hiram College in Ohio. He questioned the degree to which Obama would emphasize healthcare in that address.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Tuesday said the White House would not change the speech regardless of the outcome in Massachusetts. He said Obama would talk about jobs, fiscal responsibility, Iraq, Afghanistan and terrorism.
Not every issue will see a dramatic change in legislative dynamics because of the loss of a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate.
One of Obama’s biggest legislative issues in 2010 is expected to be an overhaul of financial regulations already approved by the House.
Lobbyists before the election in Massachusetts said they didn’t expect the dynamics in the Senate to change too much no matter the result.
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who announced he’d retire at the end of the year, is trying to reach a deal with the ranking Republican on his committee, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).
At the same time, a Massachusetts win could give Republicans more leverage to argue against the creation of a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Some news reports have said Dodd is already thinking about dropping that provision to gain GOP support.
Obama’s push for a new fee on banks could also receive a damaging blow from Brown’s victory.
Brown is against the fee, and Democrat Martha Coakley worked to make that an issue in the campaign’s final days. Obama raised the issue himself in Boston during his campaign appearance for the losing candidate.
In a research note on Tuesday, Brian Gardner of Keefe, Bruyette and Woods said a Brown victory would suggest that opposition to the bank tax is not politically fatal.
“A Brown win might not spell the end of any bank tax, but it would reinforce our view that the original proposal would need to be significantly changed in order to pass Congress,” Gardner wrote.
Ben Geman contributed to this report