The big 60: Use it or lose itGood things don’t come easily. It took 239 days, but the Minnesota Supreme Court finally declared Al Franken the winner over Norm Coleman.
By: Bill Press, The Dickinson Press
Good things don’t come easily. It took 239 days, but the Minnesota Supreme Court finally declared Al Franken the winner over Norm Coleman. And suddenly Democrats have 60 votes in the Senate — and no more excuses.
For six months, we’ve heard nothing but complaining from Democrats: Our hands are tied, they insisted. We can’t deliver a public plan option for health care, or pass the Employee Free Choice Act, or repeal the Pentagon’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, or do anything else we promised to do if re-elected — because we don’t have 60 votes. We have to compromise with Republicans, instead.
That excuse was phony, of course. Senate rules require only 51 votes to pass legislation, not 60. Democrats should never have allowed Republicans to pretend otherwise.
We remember what happened under Republican control of the Senate. When Democrats planned to filibuster a few of Bush’s judicial appointments, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist threatened to drop the “nuclear option,” outlawing the filibuster forever. Once Democrats took over, however, Republicans began demanding a filibuster on every single Senate vote. And, instead of challenging Republicans, Democrats meekly went along.
But now, phony or not, that lame excuse no longer exists. Al Franken is number 60. That gives Democrats more political clout than at any time since 1978. They control the House, the Senate, and the White House and Barack Obama’s approval rating is pretty high. Democrats will never have a better opportunity. The big question is: Will they take advantage of it?
Indeed, for Democrats, this is the moment of truth: Will they stand up or bend over? Are they able and willing to lead? If not, they should get out of the way and make room for others who will.
Imagine what it would be like were Republicans given 60 votes in the Senate. Do you think, for a moment, they’d seek bipartisan solutions? Hell, no. Before you could say “Point of Order,” they would have privatized Social Security, gutted Medicare, overturned Roe vs. Wade, outlawed labor unions, and forced prayer in public schools. Compromise be damned!
Well, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Now is the time for Democrats to seize the moment. Forget bipartisanship. Forget the need for compromise. Forget that those obstructionist Senate Republicans even exist. Let Mitch McConnell whine all he wants. Who cares what Chuck Grassley says about the public plan option?
The truth is, Democrats don’t need Republican votes anymore. It’s time for Democrats to pull together, flex their muscle, and deliver their promised agenda: a strong climate bill; the Employee Free Choice Act; immigration reform; repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act; and, most importantly, universal health care — with a public plan option, but without a tax on health care benefits.
Again, Democrats will never have a better opportunity. But, even before Al Franken was sworn in, some spineless Democrats were already offering a new round of excuses. The so-called “Super Majority” of 60 votes is illusory, they say, because you can’t count on Ted Kennedy or Robert Byrd being healthy enough to show up and vote. Plus, there are a handful of “DINO’S” (Democrats in Name Only) — think of Ben Nelson or Mary Landrieu — whose votes you can’t count on, even when they’re present. Neither excuse is valid.
It’s true that Kennedy and Byrd suffer serious health problems. But Senate passage requires 51 votes, remember, not 60. In fact, just 50 votes are good enough, with Joe Biden standing by to break a tie. Besides, no matter how sick, there’s no way Teddy Kennedy’s going to miss a vote on establishing universal health care. He’s worked hard for it all his life.
As for those wayward senators like Nelson or Landrieu, there’s only one thing Democrats are lacking: discipline. This may be a whole new concept for Democrats, who are not used to marching in lockstep. But if Barack Obama and Harry Reid are willing to play hardball by withholding committee assignments, White House invitations, campaign contributions, and endorsements, they’ll be surprised how soon Democrats will get in line.
Last November, Americans voted for change. With Al Franken’s election and 60 votes in the Senate, Democrats now have no excuse for failing to deliver it. What they lack is not votes, but backbone.
— Press is host of a nationally syndicated radio show and is an author.