Senate Democrats try to stay calm

The message from leadership the day after the Massachusetts election: Chill out

By Mike Madden
Published January 20, 2010 9:15PM (EST)

Senate Democratic leaders had a message Wednesday, both for voters like the ones who sent Scott Brown to Washington in Massachusetts the night before and for their very wary colleagues: chill out.

"First of all, we're not going to rush into anything," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters after meeting with the rest of the Democratic caucus. "We're going to wait until the new senator arrives until we do anything more on healthcare."

That part was aimed at the voters, who Democrats fear are flocking to the GOP side in recent elections because they don't get -- or worse, don't like -- what Congress is up to. Republicans have been throwing around dire warnings that the majority would find some nefarious way to pass healthcare reform in the couple of weeks it might take for Brown to be sworn in (as if a Democratic Party that has bumbled through the issue since last spring could suddenly, magically spring into swift action). So Reid tried to make it clear that nothing too crazy was up his sleeve.

At the same time, though, he also tried to reassure Democrats that there will be some kind of a plan for how to get the Senate out of the seemingly endless healthcare debate. The longer healthcare hangs out unresolved, the more time Congress isn't working on legislation that more tangibly helps the economy. But again, the message was not to panic. "The main thrust on the advice was, let's take a breath," said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., a close ally of the Obama administration's. "It does make some sense to take a few days to arrive at a decision ... In life, when you're too up or too down, it's probably not a good time to make a decision."

Lawmakers said there were several options discussed about healthcare in the meeting, from doing nothing -- dropping the bill altogether -- to trying to get the House to pass the Senate bill, then tweak it using reconciliation. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said no one in the caucus took the Massachusetts result as a call to drop the issue altogether.

But that's exactly what Republicans say Democrats should now do, and with a story line in the media emerging that the Senate race was essentially a national referendum on healthcare, albeit one held only in Massachusetts, it wouldn't be that surprising to see conservative Democrats start to push that idea.

Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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2010 Elections Democratic Party Healthcare Reform U.s. Senate War Room