WASHINGTON - A stinging loss yesterday in Massachusetts has cost President Barack Obama and the Democrats the 60-vote Senate majority they've relied on to push a historic health care overhaul to the verge of enactment.
Now what? It's miles of bad road in any direction.
Obama and party leaders anxiously worked through fallback options - none good - for salvaging the Democrats' 60-year quest to provide health insurance to all Americans.
After a year of improbable twists and turns, the unthinkable happened yesterday. Democrats lost Edward M. Kennedy's seat to a Republican upstart, and with it faced the prospect of not being able to pass the legislation that embodies Obama's top domestic priority and was Kennedy's dream.
The loss by the once-favored Democrat Martha Coakley to Republican Scott Brown in the Democratic stronghold was a stunning embarrassment for the White House, marring the end of Obama's first year in office.
Her defeat also signaled big political problems for the president's party this fall when House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates are on the ballot nationwide.
Democratic lawmakers could read the results as a vote against Obama's broader agenda, weakening their support for the president. And the results could scare some Democrats from seeking office this fall.
On health care, Democrats don't appear to have enough time to resolve differences between the House and Senate bills - and get cost and coverage estimates back from the Congressional Budget Office - before Brown is sworn in. That leaves House Democrats with the unpalatable option of passing a Senate bill that many of them profoundly disagree with.
"How do we do it with 59?" lamented liberal Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills).
Independents turned against the sweeping health care legislation and the Democratic base lost its enthusiasm, Weiner continued.
Democratic lawmakers must show they got the message by regrouping, considering a time-out on health care and perhaps passing a more modest bill, he argued.