Yesterday, I tweeted the Washington Monthly‘s Steve Benen about his post reminding liberals that the Democrats don’t really have 60 votes in the Senate. I argued that while Benen and Ezra Klein are making valid arguments—Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy really are sick and the political system really is messed up—neither the mainstream media nor the voters themselves are going to accept those excuses come election time. Last night, Benen responded in an email:
You raise a good point about the governing possibilities of a caucus with 60 members. Reid has 58 Dems and 2 Indys who caucus with Dems, and with that comes a rare and valuable opportunity.
My post, which in retrospect probably should have been clearer, wasn’t intended to suggest that Senate Dems have an excuse for failure. Rather, I was responding to the exuberance I saw in a variety of corners, insisting hassle-free governing is the inevitable consequence of the resolution in Minnesota. I’d be delighted if that were true, but it seems to me the limitations — some logistical, some ideological, and some congenital — make this highly unlikely.
That said, I don’t disagree with your observation at all. In fact, I’d like to think Reid & Co. would take it to heart. Come Midterms, voters aren’t going to be especially impressed when Democratic Incumbent X tells voters, “Well, we would have done more, but Kennedy got sick and Nelson’s a pain in the ass.” They’ll tune that right out, looking instead at the record of accomplishments — or lack thereof.
So, to answer your question directly: yes, there are 60 Democrats in the Senate (technically 58 +2, but whatever). But what that should mean and what it will mean are two different things.
It seems like Benen’s come around, which is great. But there are still plenty of other people out there making excuses for Senate Democrats not doing their jobs. And while I understand people’s desire to correct irrational exuberance over the Franken result, I think that making these kind of excuses for Harry Reid et. al. is counterproductive. The excuses are valid ones—passing health care reform is going to be hard—but they’re still just that: excuses. Democrats are not going to get many better chances than this. They’re in a position of greater power than they’ve been in at least three decades, and probably four. They have a window of opportunity to pass the health care legislation their party has been trying to enact for sixty years. If their party stands for anything, it’s this. They need to get it done or get out of the business. And that goes for President Obama, too.