Massachusetts election upset

The hoopla surrounding Massachusetts’s newly elected senator, Republican Scott Brown, is not because he once posed for a centrefold of a 1982 issue of Cosmopolitan. Instead, Brown’s win over Democrat Martha Coakley in last week’s special senate election to fill the late Ted Kennedy’s seat increased the number of Republicans in the senate to 41 – giving the GOP legal clout to block legislation.

Brown’s win is somewhat of a shock, considering he is the first Republican senator elected in Massachusetts since 1972. The win also comes amidst debate surrounding the introduction of universal healthcare in the United States.

Although his victory has been attributed to good political campaigning, it also signals dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama’s proposed policies.

Undoubtedly, the political implications of the Republican victory are considerable. The U.S. Senate needs the support of 60 out of its 100 members to pass the crucial healthcare legislation currently being debated in Washington. Brown has promised to be the 41st senator to vote against the bill in question. His victory means that in order to pass the controversial bill, some Republicans will need to cross the floor and side with the Democrats on the issue of healthcare.

The likelihood of this is slim. Even when a particular party holds the majority needed in Congress to pass legislation, it can be particularly difficult to amass the support needed. Unarguably, the election of a Republican senator presents a significant setback to Obama’s liberal agenda.
Another possibility is to pass the bill using reconciliation, a somewhat complicated legislative process in which the Senate only needs 51 votes in order to bypass a filibuster. Dr. Barry Kay, a political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said that in order to salvage whatever vision of universal healthcare the president had for America, “the House should accept the Senate version of bill and work out some of the technical problems later….the bill is not dead but certainly there are serious challenges.”

While this may be not the type of “change” Obama envisioned for his presidency, he is quickly learning that promises made during the election campaign can prove difficult to keep in the culture of “politics as usual” still alive in Washington.

After the news of Brown’s win last week, Obama told ABC News that he blames himself for the shift in the balance of power on Capitol Hill. He feels that he neglected to foster a good connection with the American people and that the public suffers from a “feeling of remoteness and detachment” from its government.

In light of this most recent senate upset for the Democrats, it is hard to say how well the Obama camp will fair as the 2010 election year presses on.