About That Filibuster Proof Majority

Over at the Economist, E.M. writes about Harry Reid’s failed attempt to pass the DREAM Act and repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell:

Politically speaking, it is arguably better for the Democrats that these measures do not pass: many of their disappointed backers will doubtless resolve to head to the polls in November to punish the recalcitrant Republicans and reward the Democrats, in the hope of better luck next time.

But that thinking rests on the assumption that advocates of gay rights or immigration amnesties or healthy firemen will blame the Republicans (and the filibuster) for their misfortune. The problem is that increasing numbers of them blame Mr Reid and the Democrats instead. They, after all, had the votes before the death of Ted Kennedy to push all these measures through the Senate, but instead hummed and hawed until it was too late. Mr Reid cannot embarrass the Republicans by inducing them to filibuster a seemingly unobjectionable bill without reminding the left of how little the Democrats did with their filibuster-proof majority when they had it. And the more used Democratic activists feel, the less likely they are to rush to the polls to castigate the Republicans.

Well, let’s at least get our history straight. Until Al Franken was sworn in on July 7, the Democratic caucus in the Senate stood at 59. After that it was technically up to 60, but Ted Kennedy hadn’t cast a vote in months and was housebound due to illness. He died a few weeks later and was replaced by Paul Kirk on September 24, finally bringing the Democratic majority up to 60 in practice as well as theory. After that the Senate was in session for 11 weeks before taking its winter recess, followed by three weeks until Scott Brown won Kennedy’s seat in the Massachusetts special election.

So that means Democrats had an effective filibuster-proof majority for about 14 weeks. Did they squander it? I guess you can make that case, but there’s a very limited amount you can do in the Senate in 14 weeks. Given the reality of what it takes to move legislation through committee and onto the floor (keeping in mind that the filibuster isn’t the minority party’s only way to slow things down), I think you might make the case, at most, that a single additional piece of legislation could have been forced through during that period. But probably not much more than that. Democrats basically had a filibuster-proof majority for about three months. That’s just not very long.

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