I’m Sara Sciammacco of Capitol News Connection. This Week in Congress...
Democratic lawmakers returned from a long holiday weekend worried about the prospects of losing a seat in the U.S. Senate. Late polls showed the Republican contender Scott Brown in the lead. By Tuesday afternoon Democrats feared the worst. To their dismay they lost the super majority after having it for only seven months. Virginia Senator Mark Warner summed it up best.
WARNER: "We got walloped."
The newly-diminished majority began licking its wounds and looking for answers. The newly-emboldened minority celebrated and began contemplating its meaning. Texas Republican John Cornyn said Massachusetts voters were clear.
CORNYN: "They are simply fed up and tired of being shut out of the process."
Republicans pointed to the debate on health care, some going as far as saying the democratic bill is dead. Senator George Lemieux is from Florida, where 1 out of every 4 people under 65 is uninsured.
LEMIEUX: "The American people obviously don’t like it if in a state where the democratic registration is 3 to 1, they throw out the Democrats and put a Republican in. I mean, if Massachusetts is sending a republican to the Senate and the rest of these folks here in Congress don’t wake up, they are going to get replaced."
Meanwhile, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was all smiles in his office in the U.S. Capitol.
MCCONNELL: "I just wanted to take this opportunity to welcome Senator Brown to US Senate."
Brown took the welcome in stride.
BROWN: "When do I get a business card, when do I get an office and when will I be sworn in?"
Every time a Senator got off a Capitol elevator, reporters swarmed. Everyone wanted to know what would happen next, but many weren’t giving any specifics. West Virginia Democrat Jay Rockefeller held the press at bay.
ROCKEFELLER: "Yeah, I think a couple days to cool off on both sides."
Ideas were being tossed around about how to move forward on a health care bill without 60 votes. There is something called "reconciliation," which would allow the majority to pass a bill with only 51 votes. There is one thing that hasn’t changed--party leaders still have to worry about courting the moderates, like Ben Nelson of Nebraska. He’s concerned states will have to pay too much for a Medicaid expansion.
NELSON: "I still would like to have an opt-out so that states could make a decision at that time but not have it be an unfunded mandate."
Speaking of the mandate, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger came to Washington this week. He begged federal officials for help to pay for it.
SCHWARZENEGGER: "There were many in the congressional delegation that said this was going to be very difficult, well hello, what isn’t?"
Republicans have two words of advice on health care: "start over." They’re still calling for a less expensive package and more GOP input. But those calls may sound a bit louder now. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, can’t believe the legislation is still in limbo.
SHERROD: "This bill should have been in done in September, it is still good bill and we should be talking about jobs now, and we should be concentrating on the economy and jobs."
The Republican victory wasn’t the only thing Democrats were fuming about this week. The Supreme Court decided to strike down long-standing campaign finance laws. The move allows companies to use general funds to buy ads to support or oppose politicians. In the 5 to 4 ruling justices argued the laws infringed on free speech. Colorado Democrat Jared Polis argued it would give the wealthy even more power.
POLIS: "Corporations already have too much influence in politics. We’ve seen the impact of the special interests in health care debate among other things. This type of corporate involvement with elections actually undermines the free speech of living, breathing human beings."
Next week the Democrats will try to come up with legislation to correct what they call a huge win for corporate America. And Congress and the nation await President Obama’s State of the Union address.
That was This Week in Congress. I’m Sara Sciammacco, Capitol News Connection.