Work to save Dems needs to begin now

Freedom New Mexico

The surprise victory — well, it wasn’t a surprise by election day, but virtually nobody except the most Pollyannaish Scott Brown adviser would have predicted it a month ago — by Republican Scott Brown over Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley in Massachusetts last week has politicians and pundits alike scrambling to find answers.

Was it a weak Democratic candidate? A listless and inattentive national Democratic Party? An unusually active and attractive Republican candidate? Discontent over the proposed health-care insurance overhaul? A generalized sense of unease over how things have gone during President Obama’s first year? A sense that the Obama administration has focused too much on health care and not enough on jobs and economic recovery?

We suspect it was all of the above and more, but growing opposition to the various proposals to overhaul health insurance and give the government a greater role, along with a sense that the Obama administration had missed signals about concern over jobs and economic decline seem to have been the most important factors.

In the wake of Sen. Brown’s surprise victory, Washington Democrats, who had hoped to have a health care law ready for President Obama to sign before the State of the Union address, are debating what to do next. Does the House swallow its objections and pass the Senate version unchanged so there’s no need for more tinkering and a chance to pass it before Sen. Brown is seated? Do they turn to an obscure process known as “reconciliation” to allow the Senate to pass legislation with only 51 votes rather than 60? Or do they go back to the drawing board and develop a plan that just might have a chance of getting a few Republican votes?

We suspect that ramming through legislation that has become more unpopular the more people learn about it, especially through dead-of-night swiftness or convoluted maneuvering would simply reinforce the widespread impression that Washington Democratic politicians are arrogant and out of touch with middle-class and working Americans. The better course would be to start fresh, with ideas like allowing insurance to be sold across state lines, tort reform to reduce medical malpractice premiums and defensive medicine, private coops, and giving individuals the same tax breaks for buying health insurance that corporations get firmly on the table.

Although he will undoubtedly resist the idea — nobody likes to acknowledge that he has made major blunders — President Obama would do well to pare back his agenda and concentrate on measures that might lead to the creation of more real jobs that do not require special tax breaks or subsidies. Don’t allow the Bush tax cuts to expire. Declare that henceforth no business is too big to fail and no industry is entitled to subsidies. Focus on regulation that helps markets to function efficiently rather than seeking to punish the successful or lucky. Explicitly abandon the higher energy taxes that would be the result of a cap-and-trade scheme for carbon dioxide. And get it done quickly so businesses have a predictable regulatory and political climate within which to operate.

We doubt the president will do that, but it might just be the only way to avert a major Democratic debacle in November.