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The (Sort of) Myth of 60

January 20, 2010

With Martha Coakley’s defeat, it seems the entire Democratic Party has come to a grinding halt.  In many ways, rightfully so.  In otherwise, it’s a bit of Chicken Little.

I’m naturally an optimist, but here is why I say this.  Yes, this has the potential to derail many of Obama’s plans, including health reform.  Oddly though, it seems that people have already forgotten what this administration has faced to date.  First, we relied on moderates like Susan Collins, Olympia Snow and Arlen Specter for passage of the stimulus.  Then Specter switched parties which gave the Democrats “60” votes.  How much good did that do?

When came time to debate health reform we faced Olympia Snowe’s central role in getting a bill out of the Finance Committee which fell short of what progressives had outlined.  Then what happened?  Democrats got Liebermaned (I think I’m coining that).  After that?   We were put in a full (Ben) Nelson.  As Matt Yglesias points out, even Democrats who didn’t cause problems for health reform obstruct other progressive policies.

My point is only that having 60 Senators caucusing with the Democrats has produced some less than desirable results.  I get the incredibly sad irony that it was Kennedy’s seat that is torpedoing the (relatively) comprehensive health reform we thought we had.  It’s also tough to see exactly what reforms will end up passing.  I’ll leave that to people who have a better whip count.  It will inevitably be less than I want, but it should still be something.

One other observation:

I’ve heard a lot of grumbling now that issues of LGBT rights have no chance of passing now.  I have to wonder though, what did the 60 vote supermajority get us before?  The Hate Crimes Bill passed with bipartisan support because it was folded into the defense authorizations bill.  Other than that?  We’re not looking at much success.  A repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?  Not passed.  The Employment Non-Discrimination Act?  Still waiting.

My point isn’t to say that it can’t get worse, so we shouldn’t bother.  My point is to say that we need to stop thinking of and describing some of these issues as “progressive” issues that will only pass when Democrats can drive it through.  The repeal of DADT is supported by a majority of Americans.  Further, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act has bipartisan support in the Senate and House.  We may not get the leadership we’d hope for from the White House, should they decide to play it safe for the midterms, but it is not unfathomable to imagine it being pushed through without White House leadership.  Sure, support from Democrats is often easier than Republicans, but we shouldn’t completely write off all Republicans.  The pressure needs to be felt by Reid and Pelosi.  Will we get a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act?  No.  Could movement be made on DADT or ENDA?  I don’t think we should give up.

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