Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Marginal Democrat is Still Marginal

Norm Coleman's gracious decision not to make yet another round of fruitless legal challenges to Al Franken's victory gives the Dems a "magical" 60th vote in the Senate. But of course, the day after Joe Biden swears in the former SNL writer, very little will be different from the day before. The 60th vote in the Senate will have moved from being Olympia Snowe to either Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, or Arlen Specter. The Republican party will require another drubbing in order to put the relevant Senate vote at someone reasonable; if Voinovich, Gregg, Bond, Martinez, Burr, and Bunning are all replaced by Dems, while Dodd, Bennett, and Lincoln all hold on, the sixtieth vote will still be Blanche Lincoln. Byron Dorgan, probably the most populist red-state Senator, would still be five votes away from sixty. Dems would have to (a) defeat David Vitter, (b) invent a Time Machine to let them go back and pick different HHS and DHS Secretaries, (c) hope that Chuck Grassley decides he's tired of feeling like a NAIL and retires, (d) hope to defeat one of the remaining incumbents in Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, or Utah, and (e) hope all of the winning Democrats are more liberal than Byron Dorgan just to get a sixtieth Senator who's more liberal than Claire "I hope we can fix the [already solicitous of coal interests] cap and trade so it doesn't unfairly punish businesses and families in coal dependent states" McCaskill. There's just not that much that's going to change with Al Franken's victory.

All of which is to say that the fact that sixty votes has become the norm to do anything in the Senate—appoint FEC nominees, pass basically any legislation, confirm judges—is highly unusual and ought to be done away with. If it's not possible to have a filibuster without seeing it abused, then abolish the filibuster or the Senate. The fiftieth Democratic Senator at the moment is probably the aforementioned McCaskill, who for all my carping is decent for a red-state Senator, and after 2011 it would probably be someone like Jim Webb in the worst case and Barbara Mikulski in the best case. That would be change we could believe in.
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