With Arlen Specter a Democrat again (he started out as one in the ’60s) and Al Franken on the verge of breaking former Senator Coleman’s four corner stall in Minnesota, the Washington conventional wisdom says the Democrats will finally have the filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes that they have been missing. Right? Not so fast.
There is no reason to believe the addition of the comedian and the chameleon to the Democratic caucus meetings will give the Senate Democrats a filibuster-proof voting block. All it does is move the swing votes in the Senate from Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe to the likes of Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, and Tom Carper.
It further marginalizes the Republicans – no more need to hang on every word and nuanced sentence of Collins and Snowe – but it does not assure the President a cooperative Senate. Without Specter or Franken the Democrats already had 58 members in the Senate. The lack of a working majority is not about numbers but leadership. One orthopedic surgeon would do more than two new Democrats. The leadership needs a stronger backbone. Democrats have been unwilling to let the Republicans filibuster, and have two parties debate whether the American people want to follow the new set of policies presented by the Obama Administration or not.
Just last week we had an example that gave credence to my belief that two more Democrats will not be much help to the President. The Senate voted on April 29th to kill the president’s bankruptcy reform measure, which would have given bankruptcy judges in mortgage foreclosure cases to authority to weigh the facts and allow people to stay in their homes if the circumstances warranted. It was a simple case of consumers (and the White House ) versus the banks, which wanted no flexibility in foreclosures. Twelve Democrats, including Senators Max Baucus of Montana, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Tom Carper of Delaware, and newly Democratic Arlen Specter went along with all the Republicans to vote with the banks to kill the bill.
Some people are screaming about the possibility of the federal government owning the banks, while they should be concerned that the banks own the United States Senate.
If we cannot rely on two more Democrats in the Senate to make real change happen, we go back to leadership, which raises some questions:
- First, will Majority Leader Harry Reid do what Tom Daschle should have done – that is step down from his leadership position to return to Nevada to campaign more often to protect his Senate seat that is up in 2010?
- Second, if Reid does step down , will his lieutenant Dick Durbin of Illinois break free from his role of the last six years – that of the loyal deputy who traced the missteps of his leader, such as watching helplessly as Senate Democrats enabled President Bush to break the Constitution by legalizing warrantless wiretapping, passing the Military Commissions Act,and enacting the Patriot Act, as well as making a mess of the Roland Burris appointment ?
- Finally, could Senator Durbin as a majority leader revert back to being the intelligent fighter for progressive causes that he was before he became a member of the Reid leadership team whose game plan has been to avoid controversy at all cost?
The answers to these questions are worth more than two more Democrats in the Senate.