Most of the commentary about last night's elections has centered around Republican pickups in the New Jersey and Virginia statehouses. But what's gone largely unnoticed is that the two congressional seats up for grabs last night both went to Democrats, and that will have immediate ramifications for health care reform.
The NY-23 seat abdicated by Republican John McHugh (who resigned to become Secretary of the Army) went to Democrat Bill Owens--the first Democrat to hold the seat in over a century. And the CA-10 seat abdicated by Democrat Ellen Tauscher (who resigned to become Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs) went to Democrat John Garamendi.
That creates some simple arithmetic. Yesterday, Democrats had 256 voting members in the House. By week's end, they'll have 258. Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could afford to lose no more than 38 Democratic votes on a landmark health care reform bill. Next week, after Owens and Garamendi are sworn in, she can lose up to 40. For legislation this historic and far-reaching, she'll need every vote she can get--and both seem likely to support reform.
Garamendi is a liberal, and though Owens now represents a GOP-leaning district, here's what he said about the bill at a debate last week with Doug Hoffman and Dede Scozzafava: "I think moving towards this legislation is very appropriate. I think the type or the form of the public option included in this bill is reasonable. It is not one that allows people to move to the government option if they already have health insurance overage. So it's not going to control a significant segment of the population."
So while last night's election results are being cast widely as a victory for Republicans, in a very real, and immediate sense, they were a victory for Democratic leaders in the House, who will soon enjoy a bit more breathing room.