Monday, December 21, 2009

60 Votes

Last night, or early this morning, the Senate passed its first procedural hurdle on the health care bill when 60 Senators voted to cut-off what will be the first of several filibuster attempts by Republicans.

Much will be made of the bipartisan failure of this effort. Not a single Republican supported it. But I don't look at it that way. The way I see it the current Democratic Party is incredibly diverse, with conservative Democrats who in other times would be moderate Republicans working on the same team as more traditional liberals. The far-from perfect bill that is soon to be passed by the Senate is the result of much deal-making and compromise, the kind that would typically be done between parties but is now being done intra-party. It is much like what happens in one-party towns like Chicago or my old Youngstown, OH. When one party dominates the only game in town is within the party in power and you get the kind of diversity you would typically see among various political parties within that one party.

That's pretty much the reality of the US Congress right now. You have one very diverse party in power and one tiny fringe party that has no interest and really no compelling reason to play ball. It's pretty telling when Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, who was part of the gang of six Republican and Democratic Senators who negotiated all summer and produced a bi-partisan blue-print that was initially ignored by the Senate, but now gets a final bill that looks pretty much like what she helped produce, won't vote for the final bill because it is being "rushed." She was never going to vote for any bill. Her participation in the gang 0f six process was designed to slow down and helpfully kill health care reform.

Getting 60 Senate votes - even if 58 of them are from the same party and 2 are Independents - on any contentious issue is pretty remarkable. It's not the bill I hoped for, and of course there is more work to be done in reconciliation, but by any reasonable standard that looks fairly at the current political distribution of power in Washington it is a "bi-partisan" political victory.

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