Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 1, 2009

THE NOT-SO-MAGICAL NUMBER.... Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas responded to Sen.-Elect Al Franken's (D) victory in Minnesota yesterday by immediately raising expectations for the majority party. "With their supermajority, the era of excuses and finger-pointing is now over," Cornyn said.

If only it were that simple.

To be sure, Democrats on the Hill are no doubt thrilled to add another member to their caucus. And a 60-vote majority is the largest caucus either party has had in 35 years. Not bad for a party that had 45 senators just a couple of Congresses ago.

That said, while this is an impressive milestone for the Democratic Party, it's hardly a breakthrough that will produce problem-free governing. Joshua Green's take sounded right to me.

At least on paper [Democrats now have 60 seats, a filibuster-proof majority]. In reality, it's not quite so simple. A quiet concern in the White House is the logistical difficulty of getting Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd, both of them long absent with serious health issues, to the Senate floor to cast a vote. This is putting additional pressure on conservative Democrats like Evan Bayh to toe the party line, and raising the importance of Olympia Snow and Susan Collins, considered to be the two most gettable Republicans on issues like health care.

Every vote on major initiatives brings its own challenges, and there's never a guarantee that everyone in the Democratic caucus will vote together. Indeed, the opposite is true. For all the emphasis Republicans put on party loyalty and discipline, the 60-seat Democratic caucus includes Ben Nelson. And Joe Lieberman. And Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, Blanche Lincoln and their merry band of Blue Dogs. And two ailing and elderly legends whose health problems make attendance unlikely anytime soon.

One party strategist told Sam Stein, "Sixty is an imaginary number. You are always going to lose the Ben Nelsons and all the centrists. This is why 2010 proves to be so important because it can set a buffer for that 60 threshold."

It's best not to take this too far. Democrats are in the strongest position they've been in for practically a generation. Governing isn't going to be easy from here on out, but it should be easier once Kennedy and Byrd are up to rejoining the chamber. All things being equal, it's a lot better to be Harry Reid this morning than Mitch McConnell.

But this talk of the Democrats' "magic number" is misplaced.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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Why has 60 become the requirement for everything? Repubs never needed 60. This supermajority becoming the new majority is the hijacking of democracy - and it gets no attention except from people like you.

Posted by: JohnN on July 1, 2009 at 8:10 AM | PERMALINK

Anyone who thinks John Cornyn will stop making excuses for Republican failures or "finger=pointing" at Democrats is incredibly naive.

Posted by: Colin on July 1, 2009 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

And they trotted out John Cornyn (R-Insane) because he's the highest ranking R whose scandals have not yet been lurid enough to reach public notice? Whose idea of Hispanic outreach is to let them wear a hat when they mow his lawn?
Roll on 2010.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on July 1, 2009 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

draft mel watt to beat burr in '10

Posted by: neill on July 1, 2009 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

It's not a magic number, but when it comes down to needing 2/3 of Snowe/Collins/Nelson or 1/3, it's huge. The amount of compromise to get that sixtieth vote could be huge. And if they would only shame the blue dogs into not fighting cloture votes, it would be even bigger. That said, the Senate is a conservative group in general, and they do not want to be seen as being like the Tom Delay/Bill Frist congresses that simply roll over in unison to lobbyists and political strategists.

Posted by: Danp on July 1, 2009 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

Already making excuses? C'mon, you wouldn't be allowing the Republicans to make these same excuses if the shoe were on the other foot.

Posted by: Jayon on July 1, 2009 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, why is 60 the new majority needed to pass anything? When Bush and the GOP had control of the WH, Senate and the House, they were ramming things through with 52 or 54 votes as if they had a mandate. Now even 60 is problematic for the Democrats and they need to build up even MORE of a buffer in 2010? So now they need 62-63 seats to get anything passed? If Harry Reid can't get anything done with a 60 seat majority, then he's basically worthless. If the shoe was on the other foot and the Republicans had 60 seats right now, it would be a scorched earth policy and Democrats would be treated like a doormat.

Posted by: AJ on July 1, 2009 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, why is 60 the new majority needed to pass anything?

60 was the threshhold under Bush as well. The difference is that Dems didn't dare filibuster EVERYTHING. And that is the advantage of owning the media, who will either portray you as always obstructing, or just playing by the rules.

Posted by: Danp on July 1, 2009 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

What bullshit.

"We can't do anything with 48 dems because we don't have a majority!"

"We can't do anything with 51 dems because we can't get 100 percent of the caucus!"

"We can't do anything with 58 dems because it's not the 60-vote supermajority requirement we just pulled out of our ass!"

"We can't do anything with 60 dems because of Blue Dog defections!"

Where does it end? Are 70 dems enough? 95?

How many dems does it take to pass legislation in the Senate?

Answer: Only 51. IF the majority leader is not spineless worm Harry Reid.

Posted by: Yellow Dog on July 1, 2009 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

Democrats in name only.

People who line up to vote against a chance for theor constituents to be covered by a Public Option for health care are not only inhuman, but far, far, far away from being true to Democratic ideation. Nauseating...

Posted by: stevio on July 1, 2009 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

Exactly how far in the tank for the establishment are you? Do we have to make excuses already for why the Senate won't do anything? Why don't we deliver the message that we expect something from our elected representatives instead of meekly nodding that we understand the horrible difficulties that they have to contend with? The lameness of this post is really pretty depressing.

Posted by: scott on July 1, 2009 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans jammed through an awful lot of (crappy) change by means of the reconciliation process. WHY can't Dems do the same? Wouldn't it be grand if Reid or Obama could at least get a pledge from everyone in the caucus to vote for cloture? A senator may have legit objections to a bill's passage, but allowing a simple-majority vote should be another matter. By the way, Cornyn's statement is a hoot: "The time for excuses is over! Now something can and must be done about our leaden, obstructionist asses blocking every good piece of legislation!"

Posted by: garble62 on July 1, 2009 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

How many dems does it take to pass legislation in the Senate?
Answer: Only 51. IF the majority leader is not spineless worm Harry Reid.

If your a totalitarian regime party with zero tolerance for dissent like the Republicans, maybe.

This Franken win is a big deal though, because it breaks down the "political cover" the "centrist" Dems had. If Repubs were going to filibuster something the Blue Dogs could vote conservative and not get a lot of attention. Now, not so much. They are now in the spotlight, with the country watching.

Posted by: about time on July 1, 2009 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

It's one thing for Democratic Senators to vote against a bill, but voting against cloture should be a no-no. What's the use of their having a "D" label, then?

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on July 1, 2009 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

I may well be wrong, but isn't this 'filibuster-proof' number based on the actual number of Senators physically in the chamber on any given day, and not whether anyone is not there due to illness or some other reason?

In any event, it is depressing, if only for the fact that those who continually waver do so not for some sense of ideological purity, but instead do it for transparent reasons based on outside, often monetary, influences, and not on what is the best decision on the merits. I at least do not want lockstep action as we saw in the BushCo years; Democrats are a varied lot with many interests--herding cats and all that--not all of our side is bought-and-paid-for, but a depressingly high number of them certainly act that way.

Posted by: terraformer on July 1, 2009 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

One party strategist told Sam Stein, "Sixty is an imaginary number. You are always going to lose the Ben Nelsons and all the centrists. This is why 2010 proves to be so important because it can set a buffer for that 60 threshold."

Yeah, but if Harry Reid had any gonads, since the Democratic caucus could overcome the so-called "60-vote requirement to pass legislation" all by itself, there should be some real consequences to joining a Republican filibuster.

I don't really have a problem with corrupt eunuchs like Bayh extracting some concessions for their support, but that situation should cut both ways -- Bayh can have some earmarks for the companies his wife helps run, but if he breaks party discipline, no goodies for anyone.

But Reid truly seems unaccustomed to his position in the majority, since he seems more concerned with keeping that jackass Mitch McConnell happy.

Posted by: Gregory on July 1, 2009 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

One party strategist told Sam Stein, "Sixty is an imaginary number.

I don't know that I'd go that far, but with Ds less inclined to high-step it in neat rows and columns, it means a lot less than if there were 60 Rs. However...

"Sixty" is all too real in that it provides obstructionists the means to thwart even the consideration of change that the majority favors.

The only reason to vote against cloture is that you are so wedded to the status quo -- and so sure you can't get a majority -- that you're afraid to let the measure go to a floor vote.

So, voting against cloture is an acknowledgment that you're on the losing side. The rule allows you to win by forfeiting.

Used infrequently, voting against cloture can be reasonably justified (tyranny of the majority and all that), but making it the threshold for every measure, is just an admission that you're wrong. And afraid. And out of touch with the mainstream that gave Ds the majority in the first place.

Posted by: beep52 on July 1, 2009 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

60 is the magical number. That also makes 59 a magical number.

How many times have we got to 59 and didn't have Bayh, Landrieu, and Lincoln on board?

I can understand getting to 59 because we lost Nelson or Lieberman but I can't imagine losing by 1 because of Bayh or the others.

Has it ever happened?

Posted by: neil wilson on July 1, 2009 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

The Republicans sure seemed to be able to get a lot done with less than 60 votes. Can you imagine how much crap they would get done with 60 votes?

Why in the world isn't anyone painting them as obstructionists? We just pretend filibusters are routine, standard way of doing business instead of extraordinary steps.

Posted by: VOR on July 1, 2009 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

JohnN - No, the RepuGs never needed 60 to hijack democracy. You see, the number 5 placed in the proper place tops 60 anyday.

Posted by: berttheclock on July 1, 2009 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

You are always going to lose the Ben Nelsons and all the centrists.

Nelson is going to vote against cloture? If that's true, he needs to be stripped of his committee assignments. That's not acceptable.

Posted by: ferg on July 1, 2009 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

At least the two senators out with health problems are in states with Dems in the governors mansion. But then all the senority will be lost for their respective commitees.

Open question: which is worse, waiting on two very old senators to return (if ever) or get younger people with the health problems or senority??

Posted by: r_m on July 1, 2009 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

If Reid has any leadership ability at all, he will go to Nelson, Bayh, etc and tell them: "you can vote however you want on the bills themselves, but we are going to fuck you over in your re-election campaign if you vote for a filibuster. We want cloture and an up or down vote on everything or you're toast."

Posted by: Shalimar on July 1, 2009 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

Exactly how far in the tank for the establishment are you? Do we have to make excuses...

It's a straight recognition of fact.

This country is backwards from Europe. In Europe you fight the election, then form the coalition government. Here you form the coalition, then fight the election.

All coalitions can be split. Any coalition large enough to govern will have at least one fault line along which it can be split.

At any given time we have in the US four or five parties, but only two labels. American politics is coalition politics.

A generation or two ago, you had an informal alliance between the remains of the Southern Democrats and the GOP, over the war in Vietnam and civil rights that kept a paper Democratic majority from doing all it wanted to, or could have.

A generation or two before that you had an informal alliance between Bull Moose goo-goo reformist Republicans and populist Democrats that kept the McKinley Republicans from doing all their majorities seemed to entitle them to do.

Fracturing a ruling coalition doesn't move legislation, but it can stop legislation quite easily.

As things are shaping up in six months, Obama won't be able to do anything, because a righto-leftist Congressional bloc, while unable to do anything, will be able to stop everything.

You saw the bloc begin to emerge on the supplemental budget vote. You saw it start to emerge on ACES, where Kucinich and DeFazio voted with Boehner. ACES passed by one (1) vote. The next big 'Democratic' bill may not pass at all -- thanks to Democrats.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on July 1, 2009 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

Look, I think I have as much political patience as anyone but this is bullshit. The Democrats are in control. They were in control when they had 51 seats. They were in control with 55. And they are certainly i control with 60. They well know, and Reid knows better than anyone, that as many ways as there are for the minority to slow down the process, there are more ways for the majority to assert their will, if that is what they want to do. They have avoided taking these paths because people like Reid don't like it when things get ugly but it has become crystal clear that ugliness is going to be the only way to get things done here. When you have the party that got a severe beating in the last election basically setting ultimatums and drawing lines in the sand about what they will and will not accept in the health care bill, to choose one major example, its time to realize that you aren't going to achieve jackshit without throwing around some political muscle. When Republicans has a bare majority it was all "nuclear option" this and "up or down vote" that every other damn week.

Posted by: brent on July 1, 2009 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

At least the two senators out with health problems are in states with Dems in the governors mansion.

Massachusetts now fills senatorial vacancies by special election. It's a consequence of Kerry's run in '04. Jodi Rell just signed a similar law in CT, so any time Obama wants to make Lieberman ambassador to Israel, he can.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on July 1, 2009 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

Note to Bill O'Reilly - You have fought Franken in the public arena. Now, that he is becoming a solon, step up to the plate. Open your personal coffers and run for the Senate in NY, or go back to your home state of NJ. Quit complaining and whining and try to govern. You might find it is a wee bit harder than bloviating over the airways. And Bunning, Inhoye and others of your ilk have already proven that intelligence is not required for the job.

Posted by: berttheclock on July 1, 2009 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

We can't do anything with 51 dems because we can't get 100 percent of the caucus!"... - Yellow Dog

With 51 they got the minimum wage raised. With 58 the got the stimulus, Lili Ledbetter, reconciliation in the budget resolution, and others. But even with 95, the dynamic is that you have people rejecting extremists in favor of conservatives. It will be a long time before you have a Bernie Sanders elected in WV, so the Dems took 60 moving the net. The rules are such that the Senate will always be more conservative than the population as a whole. Those rules include 2 per state giving an advantage to rural states, six year staggered terms, filibuster, incumbancy advantages and committee seniority.

Posted by: Danp on July 1, 2009 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK

The White House could take some leadership in this respect. They are not without fault here.There's too much concern about bipartisanship and not enough concern about governing there.

Posted by: impartial on July 1, 2009 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

The Republicans will let many more bills come to the floor without the Democrats having to get 60 votes. How many times would McConnell want news programs showing Byrd and Kennedy carried into the Senate on stretchers to vote to end a filibuster? Most Americans at least pretend to have some sense of decency and respect for their fellow countrymen.

Posted by: Th on July 1, 2009 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

I heard Collins in particular was the one (of the three Dem dissenters)that stood strongest against the Stimulus Bill, and the thinking is with the likes of Fraken, her staunch stance might be eroded further. One can only hope.

It's very painful with two Dems so ill and needing to be present to vote. You'd think they'd be able to find another way for these gravely ill men to cast their vote long distance.

Posted by: Insanity on July 1, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

As much as it pains me to say this and as much as I admire them both if health issues mean that Kennedy and Byrd can not be available for crucial votes (especially when every vote counts) than perhaps it is time for them to step down.

Or absent that, change the archaic rule that mandates Senators be present for votes. In this day and age fo instant communication it is silly to require people to be physically present on the floor to cast a vote. Congresspeople should be able to send a vote in via the internet or over the phone.

Posted by: thorin-1 on July 1, 2009 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

If Reid has any leadership ability at all

Unfortunately, Shalimar, that's where it all falls down.

Hell, Mitch McConnell -- no one's idea of an inspiring figure of leadership -- holds the Republican caucus together better than Reid does his, and moreover has Reid anxious to please him.

Posted by: Gregory on July 1, 2009 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

This is crazy. As recently as 2006 it was common for Senators to oppose legislation but also oppose a filibuster. This is why the Dems lost so many votes where they should have filibustered.

Now the assumption seems to be that the blue dogs will not only oppose legislation but also routinely join filibusters. This has to be bullshit. Any member of the Democratic caucus (and by that I include you, the independent senator from Tel Aviv) who joins a Republican filibuster should automatically lose all their committee seats. Period. End of story.

Yes, let Ben Nelson vote against bills a needed so he can keep getting graft from the health insurance industry. But a filibuster should be a career-killer.

Posted by: Anonny on July 1, 2009 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

Wow! A post examining the Democrat's expected difficulty in breaking filibusters even with a 60 seat majority, plus about 30 comments over 3 hours, and the name of pseudo-Democrat Arlen Specter isn't mentioned once.

I think this is all we need to know about the sorry state of the current Democratic majority in the Senate.

Posted by: Common Knowledge on July 1, 2009 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

This doesn't change a thing in the Senate.

Posted by: Glen on July 1, 2009 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

If the Democrats cannot perform now, then they never will.

Posted by: McGuff on July 1, 2009 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

We need a mandatory retirement age or term limits in Congress. We need new blood and younger blood. This conservative bent is mainly due to old age and entrenchment. It's time for a grass roots movement in that direction.

We also need to revamp the rules to allow teleconferencing voting. Corporations use it routinely to cut costs. The taxpayer is picking up the bill for the travel, so we don't care?

Posted by: Always Hopeful on July 1, 2009 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

We need more than term limits. We should adopt the ancient Greek practice of choosing leaders by lot, having them serve one year and then never letting them serve again.

Yes, I know that's not too practical. But think - the US Senate as 100 people chosen at random from across America. Could it be any worse than what we have now? At least 70 of them would want a public option for health care.

Would it really be any worse?

(It's a thought experiment, don't dump on me. What might work better is choosing 100 people at random from only those people who have already served in State Legislatures - and then choose the state legislatures by lot.)

Posted by: JohnN on July 1, 2009 at 8:47 PM | PERMALINK

Good Day. To believe in God or in a guiding force because someone tells you to is the height of stupidity. We are given senses to receive our information within. With our own eyes we see, and with our own skin we feel. With our intelligence, it is intended that we understand. But each person must puzzle it out for himself or herself. Help me! Help to find sites on the: Pink baby bedding. I found only this - frog baby bedding. Noting the pods far we can hardly become the first barbell, bedding. Bedding, thomas describes, and is conducted into the problems to acquire information with duncan. With love :eek:, Kennan from Vietnam.

Posted by: Kennan on March 11, 2010 at 1:20 AM | PERMALINK



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