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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

With Republican latest win - The new US bipartisan math: 41 is greater than 59

Scott Brown, a Republican upset victory in a traditionally Democrat's safe seat have change the 60:40 ratio of Democrat's majority in the US Senate.

It's not just why Scott Brown won that matters -- even more important is why it matters that Scott Brown won.

Remember, last night we went from a 60-40 Democratic majority to 59-41. On Tuesday, we had a 20-vote margin in the Senate. On Wednesday, we had an 18-vote margin.

In any other legislative body, Brown's victory would have been completely inconsequential. But in the United States Senate, thanks to the Democratic willingness to let Republicans abuse the filibuster rule, going from 60-40 to 59-41 makes all the difference in the world.

The pathetic thing here is that it didn't have to be this way. For the past year, progressives have been arguing that Democrats should push the envelope on Senate rules and exploit procedures like reconciliation that allow them to pass legislation with a simple majority.

Sure, such procedures aren't perfect. But as we've been told time and time again, we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Yet here we are in the latter half of January, 2010, one vote short of 60 in the Senate, and staring at a complete and total lack of ability to move forward on anything because the Democratic leadership has not raised its voice against the filibuster, nor have they set forth the arguments for how they will get around it.

Instead of challenging the filibuster, Democrats have bought into the notion that you need 60 votes in the Senate to pass legislation.


You need 50+1 votes to pass legislation in the U.S. Senate. On most measures, you can block a vote with just 41 Senators, but that is just a Senate rule, and that can be changed. Now that the GOP is abusing it in unprecedented fashion, the argument for changing the filibuster is as strong as it has ever been.

But Democrats have shown zero interests in doing so. They seem to like the idea of letting 41 Republicans rule the roost. They may not agree on policy, but they sure do agree that 41 is greater than 59.

At this point, it seems that the Democratic plan is to hope Republicans will work with them. Who knows? Maybe they will strike gold. But everything we've learned in the last year tells us that Republicans will not be willing to work with Democrats.

And why should they? After a year of Limbaugh and Beck and Fox and teabagging, the Republican plan of lurching hard right and using the threat of a filibuster to block progress on just about every major issue has worked like charm. They've scared the Democratic Party shitless. They've rendered Democrats impotent.

Why would Republicans change course now? Why should they? Democrats haven't challenged their abuse of Senate procedure in any sort of meaningful way. What risk is there for Republicans in pursuing their strategy?

We can debate endlessly about why exactly Scott Brown won, but the point is that his victory shouldn't matter as much as it does.

But yet it does matter. It matters so much because the Senate is a completely dysfunctional institution, and even though Republicans have been the driving force behind that dysfunction, Democrats have been all-too-willing to go along with the GOP.

Sure, it's beyond idiotic. It's the height of stupidity. But it's also what happened. And now we're seeing the consequences.

For Democrats, the only way out will be challenging the notion that 41 Republicans should be able to dictate legislative outcomes. But given Democratic acceptance of the filibuster rule, it might be too late.

by Jed Lewison | Wed Jan 20, 2010