Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Al Franken Goes to the Senate

Al Franken is on his way to the Senate today. Norm Coleman lost his challenge before the Minnesota Supreme Court and conceded shortly afterwards.

That means that the Democratic Party now has 60 seats in Senate. What does that mean? I think in the short term it will make it easier to get certain initiatives through on a party-line vote. Republicans will be deprived of their ability to filibuster since 60 votes is enough to invoke cloture to stop a filibuster until after the 2010 midterm election.

In the short term, Democrats are guaranteed to get Sonia Sotomayor confirmed to the Supreme Court. And in the next year or so, they can reshape the judiciary without having to worry about attracting Republican votes for any nominee.

That doesn’t mean that Democrats can push anything they want through. There are conservative Democrats such as Evan Bayh, Max Baucus, Ben Nelson, and Arlen Specter. This might mean for example, that getting a public option in the upcoming healthcare legislation could still be difficult. At a minimum those Democrats will have a lot of power in the Senate as they can decide whether legislation attains the magic number of 60 votes to pass.

Long term, it is almost always difficult to have such a large majority and not have lots of ideological diversity. Recall that during the New Deal era, Democrats had to carefully balance northern liberals and southern reactionaries. That unwieldy partnership collapsed during the 1960s. I don’t see a conflict of that level happening, but there will undoubtedly be divisions in the party eventually.

For the Democrats now, the onus of government is completely on them. Republicans can claim that any problem is the fault of the Democrats. After all, Democrats are in complete control of both the White House and Congress.

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