When the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Democrat Al Franken bested former Sen. Norm Coleman (R) in their long-disputed 2008 race, the five justices handed Senate Democrats the 60-vote majority they never dreamed theyd have, but party insiders warn that the ruling is both a blessing and curse.
On the one hand, 60 is the magic number to beat back a GOP-led filibuster. On the other, Democrats will have no one but themselves to blame if they cant pass President Barack Obamas ambitious plans to rewrite health care, overhaul banking regulations and tackle global warming. And Democratic infighting will likely be the predominant media storyline rather than the partisan gridlock that has characterized the chamber over the past several years.
We have 60 votes on paper only, said one senior Senate Democratic aide. This will help us procedurally but were still going to have obstacles to overcome, including two sick Senators and the fact that not every Democrat is going to stick with the caucus on every single vote.
The aide continued, That being said, were not complaining. Its a much better problem than two years ago when were only had 51 votes.
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has repeatedly said that having 60 Democratic-leaning Senators the Conference includes two Independents does not ensure passage of anything.
In April, when Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) bolted the Republican Party a decision that set Democrats on the path to 60 Reid said he did not necessarily see his job getting any easier.
I certainly dont count [Specter] as an automatic vote, Reid said at the time. Not surprisingly, I dont count anyone in my caucus as an automatic vote.
Already, centrist Democrats have been pushing back on major climate change and health care reform legislation. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), for example, has been skeptical of both legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions and Obamas plan to create a public health insurance plan.
They might have a 60-Member Majority. That doesnt mean they have 60 votes, Nelson said after Specters switch. It will be issue by issue that will determine how many votes the majority party gets.
Nelson is hardly the only moderate who has caused problems for Democrats this year, or even the only one who still threatens to be a tough sell. Both Nelson and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) have come under fire from left-leaning groups who want them to support the presidents push for a public health care option.
Others moderates, such as Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), have taken up the mantle of fiscal responsibility and voted against Democratic spending plans. Plus, Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) recently threatened to help Republicans block or delay all Senate business until he was assured that photos of detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan would not be released to the public.
Moderates sure matter right now and will certainly swing the direction of the big-ticket agenda items, said another senior Senate Democratic source.
And Republicans hinted that they are certainly going to increase the pressure on those Democratic centrists to hold the line.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.