MA Senate Debate Underscores Vulnerability Of Health Care Reform

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The candidates in the Massachusetts Senate special election debated this morning on a local radio station, with Democrat Martha Coakley and Republican Scott Brown setting up some stark partisan contrasts. But perhaps the most important message of the debate was Brown’s promise to stop the health care bill in its tracks if he is able to pull off an upset two weeks from today and become the 41st GOPer in the Senate.

It was striking that Brown didn’t try to soft-peddle the Republican message in this Democratic state. A big part of his campaign is that if he is elected, he would have the power to stop Democratic bills. Of the current health care bill he declared: “I would be the 41st senator and would stop that particular bill, because as a Massachusetts Senator I need to look out for our jobs and our hospitals.” He later added: “I can stop it so they can go back to the drawing board and do something better for Massachusetts.”

Coakley, the front runner, stressed the importance of passing some kind of bill in the Senate: “The people who don’t want this desperately don’t want health care reform. They don’t want any kind of health care reform, and they use this [abortion] as a trigger.”

During the Democratic primary, Coakley was heavily critical of the House health care bill and the Stupak Amendment. In the debate this morning, she indicated an openness to the Senate’s version of abortion language, compared to the Stupak measure because it prevented people receiving federal subsidies from purchasing coverage for abortion with their own money. “The Senate version, though I don’t love it, doesn’t have that provision in it,” Coakley said, also adding: “I don’t love that amendment, but I do believe the Senate bill brings us closer towards the two goals of health care, promoting competition and bringing costs down.”Brown also took a hard line against the coming terrorism trials in New York City, lambasting Attorney General Eric Holder by saying, “It’s time we stopped acting like lawyers and started acting like patriots.” He also defended the use of waterboarding, disagreeing with Sen. John McCain (who endorsed him recently): “I do not believe it is torture. America does not torture, and we used aggressive, enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Brown defended his use of a 1962 video of President John F. Kennedy in a new campaign ad, promoting a platform of tax cuts. “Let’s talk about the ad real quick,” said Brown. “Different people, different party, different era, same message — lower taxes create jobs.” He later added, “JFK was right, I agree with him, so I’m similar with him in that regard. Martha and the Democrat Party are not in line with JFK in that regard anymore.”

Coakley responded that when Kennedy was proposing tax cuts in 1962, the top marginal rate was 91% — a completely different circumstance from now. She also later said of the ad, “I think he’s got the wrong president in the ad. I think it should be Scott Brown and George Bush.”

There was also that third candidate at the debate. Software developer Joe Kennedy (who is not related to the famous Kennedy family, but simply shares their common Irish name) could potentially siphon votes from Brown with his staunch libertarianism, an important point if the race gets close. Brown is for blocking the health care bill; Kennedy is for repealing every single line of it after it passes. Brown is for cutting taxes and shrinking government; Kennedy is for eliminating the Department of Education. Even on tax cuts, Brown claims the legacies of Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy; Joe Kennedy hearkens back all the way to Warren Harding.

Interestingly, it was noted that Coakley was in favor of Kennedy’s inclusion in the debate.

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