Monday, November 24, 2008

Obama's Senate Is Virtually Filibuster Proof

It now looks unlikely that Al Franken will catch GOP incumbent Norm Coleman in the Minnesota Senate race, and we think Republican Saxby Chambliss will hold his seat in the Georgia run-off.

That means Democrats will hold 56 seats in the new Senate, along with two independents--Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders--who vote with the Democratic caucus, giving them 58 votes on party-line issues.

Republicans will hold 42 seats, enough to sustain a filibuster IF everyone stays in line.

Make no mistake, however: this is a virtually filibuster-proof majority, especially if Obama governs from the center, maintains party discipline and reaches out to moderates on the other side, thus isolating hard-core conservatives.

Indeed, Obama's working majority in the Senate is stronger than the super-majorities Democrats held in the 1960's and early 1970's. Back then, many southern Democratic senators were far more conservative than the national party; they were more conservative than some of the Republicans senators from the northeast.

For example, in 1964, Democrats held an astounding 68 seats in the Senate, but many of those Senators, such as Mississippi's John Stennis and Virginia's Harry Byrd were staunch conservatives.

Today's southern Senators in the Democratic party are still more moderate than their northern and west coast colleagues, but not nearly as conservative as the old southern Democrats. On most issues, you can expect them to stick with the party.

Meanwhile, there are some Republican senators, especially those up for re-election in 2010, who will chart a moderate course and whom Obama will be able to woo successfully on many issues. These include Arlen Spector in Pennsylvania, George Voinovich in Ohio, Judd Gregg in New Hampshire, and perhaps John McCain in demographically changing Arizona; Mel Martinez in Florida and Kit Bond in Missouri.

On the big issues of the day--energy, environment, universal health care, economic stimulus--Obama should be able to craft a Senate majority sufficient to overcome a filibuster.

At the same time, the more moderate Democrats in the Senate will serve as the canaries in the coal mine, so to speak, alerting Obama when Congress has gone too far left on an issue.

So, not to worry. Yes, it would be nice for Franken and Martin to knock off Coleman and Chambliss, but the failure to do so shouldn't prevent Obama from getting his agenda through Congress.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fantasy land. The GOP knows how to demand loyalty. We need to learn that too, but they missed their chance by giving the turncoat Lieberman his chairmanship back. Personally, I would have expelled him from the caucus, ("You can't quit, you're fired.") but they didn't as me.

58-42. Get used to that vote. You'll see it a lot.