At the risk of sending more Democrats reaching for their Prozac, consider this not implausible scenario: Republicans lose 10 to 15 House seats but maintain their majority, albeit a more narrow one. In my mind, this is the single most likely outcome in the House. Across the way in the Senate, the GOP picks up a net gain of four or five seats, creating either a 51-49 or 52-48 Republican majority in that chamber. Now let’s say Obama loses reelection, whether it’s to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, or any other GOP contender.
Obviously for Democrats, who less than two years ago held not only the presidency but also substantial House and Senate majorities, this scenario would represent something just short of the end of Western civilization as they know it. The conventional wisdom is that if Republicans pick up the presidency and a Senate majority while keeping control of the House, they would either starve or nibble away at the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as the health care reform law), or at least as much of whatever the courts haven’t thrown out. The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet weighed in on the matter.
But consider a second scenario. Let’s assume that the first piece of legislation introduced in the House is H.R. 1, a bill to effectively repeal the health care law. Upon arriving in the Senate it is incorporated into the budget reconciliation process and therefore cannot be filibustered. Only 50 votes would be necessary, with the (Republican) vice president breaking the tie, or it could get 51 or 52 votes without the vice president even needing to weigh in. Thus in the first weeks of the newly minted Republican Washington, health care reform is effectively repealed—not just nibbled at or starved to death, or for that matter picked apart by courts.
Some of the central elements in the Obama health care law really could be repealed. Even if Democrats are a sizable Senate minority, the filibuster might not be able to save the health care statute. While no one has doubted the importance of next year’s elections, the stakes are even higher than many might think.