Senate Dems: We’ll Wait For Massachusetts To Act Before Seating Brown

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With health care reform on the line, Republicans worry that Democrats may try to slow walk the seating of Scott Brown if he wins tomorrow’s election. But the Senate leadership says they will follow the usual process which requires the state to certify the winner–so any delay between the election and Brown’s swearing in would be because of the process for certifying the election in Massachusetts. Not because of Senate delays.

The winner, says Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, “needs to be certified by the state. Question is how long will that take.”

“When there is a certified winner in Massachusetts, the Senate has received appropriate papers and the vice president is available, the successor to Kennedy/Kirk will be sworn in,” Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle told the Washington Post last week.

According to the Secretary of the Senate, this falls directly out of Senate rules (specifically Rule 2). The Secretary of the Senate’s office has said she needs the certificate before winner can be sworn in, according to a Senate Democratic aide. The Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has said it will take “up to 10 days” to allow for absentee votes and the military votes to be counted, then cities and towns each have to certify the results, then the statehouse.Last week, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Secretary of State told us that it would likely take between 10 and 20 days for the winner to be certified. Either way, though, interim senator Paul Kirk will remain a voting member until the winner is seated, according to the aide.

The size of the window between election day and the winner’s swearing in could be crucial. If Republican Scott Brown wins, Democrats will have to do some quick math to determine the answer to two key questions: How long do we have? And how quickly can we move ahead with “Plan A”?

(Plan A, you’ll recall, is for the House to amend the Senate health care bill and then send it back to the upper chamber for final passage.)

Last week, I asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi if the election in Massachusetts was upping the pressure on Democrats to reach a deal quickly.

“The fact that the CBO takes so much time is really more the issue,” she said. That’ll be at the heart of the calculation: can the House get numbers back from CBO quickly enough to pass a bill in a way that gives the Senate enough time to push past its time-consuming procedural hurdles before their majority drops by one.

This math, of course, will have to take into account the political risks involved in slow-walking Brown’s swearing in. If Brown wins, particularly if he wins convincingly, Republicans will want to see him seated as soon as possible–no footdragging. More on what you can expect to see if Brown wins in a forthcoming post.

Additional reporting by Christina Bellantoni

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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