The Four-Month Supermajority
In the final stretch of the Massachusetts special election for Senate, Republican candidate Scott Brown has focused on “restoring balance” to Washington. He’ll be the “41st vote” to filibuster legislation; the Democrats’ hold on 60 votes has let liberals run the country into the ground. “That’s not what the founders intended,” he said Monday during the final debate.
The irony is that if Democrats lose the seat, they will have had a working 60-seat majority for all of four months — much of which was spent with the Senate in recess. They opened the Congress in January with 58 votes, counting the ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), not counting Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), whose razor-thin victory was held up by lawsuits from former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.). On April 28, 2009, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) switched to the Democratic Party, bringing the Democrats to 59 votes without Franken. When Franken was finally sworn in on into the Senate on July 7, 2009, the badly ailing Kennedy was unable to vote and break filibusters. Kennedy died on Aug.25, 2009, but it took Massachusetts Democrats — who run every aspect of their state government — a full month to pass legislation seating a replacement, Sen. Paul Kirk (D-Mass.). He took office on Sept. 24, 2009. Only then, and only depending on whether Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) was well, did the Democrats have a supermajority.
Whatever happens in Massachusetts, I’d expect the clamor on liberal blogs and op-ed pages for filibuster reform to increase in volume. Right now the Democrats have the worst of both worlds — the appearance, but not the reality, of total control of Congress.