I thought Rachel Maddow had a very smart take on the fallout from the Massachusetts Senate race. I’ve placed a lengthy excerpt below the fold.
On paper, after Al Franken was finally certified as winning in Minnesota, Democrats had a filibuster-proof, 60-seat majority. On paper, that’s what they had. But in reality, those 60 votes included a bunch of senators who really had no interest in voting with the rest of the Democrats on much of anything. Their little unicorn–their little myth of 60 reliable votes led the Democrats to draft policies in a way that they thought maybe could get all of those 60 votes.
Instead of working on the most effective possible policies that could still get a majority vote, Democrats have been allowing lassos at this mythical beast, trying to find the perfect, most conservative possible, but still theoretically, Democratic solutions to every problem, in order to earn these 60 votes that they’d love to believe are theirs. And in trying to accommodate guys, like Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson and Evan Bayh, they came up with watered-down, Republican-like policies that were, frankly, less effective.
Hello, smaller stimulus just for the sake of being smaller. Remember that?
The way that you build political momentum is not just by having attractive individual candidates. It’s by winning. And it’s not just by winning elections, but by being associated with winning policies.
Politics and policy are two different things, but they are linked things. By winning elections, you get the ability to affect policy. By affecting good policy, you win more elections.
And hitting the 60-vote threshold made Democrats worse at policy. It made them think they could lasso this unicorn. They could get every Democrat on board and still maintain good policy. Even when some of those Democrats found it to be in their political interest to just say “no” to everything in order to be seen as kind of a Republican-ish type of Dem.
That unicorn is now gone, after last night’s special election. And the choice for Democrats is either to throw up their hands and say, “Well, the Republicans say we need 60 votes for everything, so I guess we can’t ever do anything now.” Or they can say, “Hey, we’ve got 59 votes. It’s not filibuster-proof, so let’s not continue to concede that for the first time in American history, every single vote of consequence in the United States Senate will be subject to a filibuster and will take 60 votes.
Either get rid of the filibuster, because it’s being abused in a way that it never has been before–look at that chart–or at least change the rules of the filibuster. Or pass everything through reconciliation, where you need 51 votes and not 60. There are limitations to that, but it’s not like big policies don’t pass this way.
That’s what President Bush did with his tax cuts in 2001, passed through reconciliation with 58 votes. Bush’s tax cuts in 2003, passed through reconciliation with 51 votes. The Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which reduced spending on Medicaid, passed through reconciliation with 51 votes.
You don’t have to get 60 votes every time. And now that 60 isn’t even theoretically possible, with Republicans pledging to vote “no” always on everything, now that the mythical unicorn of the 60-seat majority is gone, it’s time for Democrats to choose a path forward. Either quit and let the party with 41 votes control the agenda, or fight with 59 votes and give people a reason to vote for you again.