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Brown Victory a 'Game-Changer' for Health Care Reform

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- NACS -- The Association for Convenience and Petroleum Retailing, issued a statement yesterday morning on the upset win by Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts to fill the Senate seat held for 46 years by Democrat Senator Edward Kennedy.

"This is a game changer for the health care debate," said NACS Director of Government Relations Julie Fields. "While it's too early to say that health care reform is dead, it leaves the president and Democrats in a tough position with a tight timeline."

Republicans now have the 41 votes needed to filibuster proposed legislation and prevent the Democratic majority from passing legislation without some Republican support.

According to NACS, prior to yesterday's election in Massachusetts, health care reform was being negotiated in closed-door sessions between the House and Senate. It was widely expected that a compromise bill would emerge from the negotiations, enabling Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to round up the votes necessary to get a final bill to the president's desk. Now that the Senate super majority has been broken, it seems unlikely that Democrats would be able to pass compromise legislation in the Senate, according to NACS.

Fields suggested three alternative strategies Democratic leaders could pursue to get health care legislation passed:

1. Convince the House to accept and pass, without changes, the version of health care reform that the Senate passed in December 2009. "This would be a tall order for Speaker Pelosi to pull off," noted Fields. "In the past four weeks, numerous House Democrats have expressed opposition to a variety of provisions in the Senate bill including the loss of a strong public option, taxes and abortion. These members were expecting a compromise and it will be difficult to go back to their districts and explain that they voted 'yes' simply because they believe something was better than nothing," she said.

2. Take action on the portions of reform that have been agreed upon so far and try to push through a quick vote in both the House and the Senate before Brown is sworn in. "This, too, could prove difficult in the current political environment," said Fields. "With Massachusetts voters sending a strong message that many in the country interpret as a referendum on health care reform, it may prove too risky for the Democratic party to rush a vote in an election year," she said.

3. Convince a Republican senator to vote "yes" on a final package. "The question is, where would the Democrats find this vote?" said Fields. "Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio) have said they would vote 'no.' Another target of Democratic leadership would likely be Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)," she said.

Fields cautioned that this loss for the Democrats is unlikely to deter them from seeking some other way to get their proposals through Congress. She said NACS will continue to focus on the following issues related to health care reform to ensure that members' interests are represented in the debate, regardless of which direction policymakers pursue:

-- NACS opposes imposition of an employer mandate that fines employers if they don't offer coverage (and in some cases, even if they do);

-- NACS seeks a clear and fair definition of full-time and part-time workers;

-- NACS is against provisions requiring the automatic enrollment of employees or unreasonable waiting period limitations that trigger the imposition of fines.

On other legislative matters of concern to the convenience store industry, such as the Employee Free Choice Act (card check) and climate change (cap-and-trade) legislation, the Democrats will now have to work with at least some Republicans to get any bill passed.

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