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Reid Gets Spoils of 100th Day

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid just grew his caucus to 59 Senators.

After a rollicking four months of legislative acrobatics, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) helped cap off President Barack Obama’s first 100 days with a bang. But the challenges for Reid in making sure Obama’s ambitious agenda is realized don’t end just because Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter decided — in part, at Reid’s urging — to switch to the Democratic Party.

It’s a move that brings Reid’s Conference one step closer to the 60-vote majority that it needs to kill GOP filibusters, considering Specter’s defection Tuesday gives the Democrats 59 votes. Minnesota Democrat Al Franken would make 60 if he prevails in the legal battle over his race with former Sen. Norm Coleman (R).

But Reid indicated that 60 votes is not a panacea.

“I certainly don’t count [Specter] as an automatic vote,” Reid said Tuesday. “Not surprisingly, I don’t count anyone in my caucus as an automatic vote.”

Indeed, Reid still has perhaps the trickiest job on Capitol Hill, particularly because he will have to work even harder to keep a band of widely divergent Democrats together to pass Obama’s big-ticket items, like health care reform and climate change legislation.

What’s more, with a filibuster-proof majority, Republicans are likely to charge that Democrats will have no one to blame but themselves if they can’t get Obama’s agenda across the finish line.

“They might have a 60-Member majority. That doesn’t mean they have 60 votes,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who has been a key swing vote in the past. “It will be issue by issue that will determine how many votes the majority party gets.”

Specter has already said he cannot be counted on to vote for a union-organizing bill known as “card check” and indicated Tuesday that he may vote against the Democrats’ budget resolution because it protects any health care bill from a filibuster.

Then there’s Nelson, who already has proved that he’s willing to follow his independent streak. He caused a stir earlier this year when he joined with three Republicans and withheld his vote on the $787 billion economic stimulus bill until Democratic leaders agreed to cut more than $100 billion from the measure’s price tag.

Of course, Nelson and Specter won’t be the only ones whom Reid will have to pacify. Any Democratic Senator could trip up legislation if he so chooses, and until Franken is seated, as is expected, Reid will still have to persuade at least one Republican to support controversial legislation. The Minnesota Supreme Court won’t take up the latest legal challenge until June.

However, Reid is well-practiced in overcoming those hurdles, even if he’s struggled at times and had to make tough concessions for Republicans and Democrats, such as on the stimulus bill.

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