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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Can ‘Party Discipline’ Make 60 Votes Count?

Despite all the hand-wringing to the contrary, political commentator Bill Press makes a well-stated argument that 60 Senate votes are more than enough for Democrats to get a progressive legislative agenda enacted. Writing in his syndicated column today, Press says:

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.

Press believes the filibuster obstacle is overstated, particularly if the Dems can find the gonads to invoke a little party discipline:

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.

Press is dismissive of the contention that Senate Democrats need a few Republicans to join them

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 important, universal health care — with a public plan option, but without a tax on health care benefits.

And he is equally-skeptical about the argument that there are not enough of the Dems to enact reforms like the public option:

…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.

Regarding the public option for health care reform, his blog “The Bill Press Show” identifies nine Democratic senators who have “not agreed to support it.,” including: Blanche Lincoln (AR); Tom Carper (DE); Maria Cantwell (WA); Ron Wyden (OR); Bill Nelson (FL); Mary Landrieu (LA); Kent Conrad (ND); Dianne Feinstein (CA); and Max Baucus (MT).
Regardless of party discipline, most of these senators have substantial moderate/conservative constituencies to answer to. Still, opinion polls indicate that the public option has broad and deep support across much of the ideological spectrum, as Ruy Teixeira explains. Invoking some carefully-targeted party discipline can’t hurt much, and might help with some of them.
Press’s aforementioned list of the nine senators is hot-linked to their websites, for those who want to contact the wobbly nine and encourage them to support the public option. If there was ever a time for progressive activists and bloggers to launch an all-out lobbying campaign targeting a group of senators to pass legislation that can save countless lives and create a new sense of security for millions of families, that time has now arrived. Every one of these senators should be made to understand that their political futures will be sorely damaged if they fail to support the public option. More party discipline from party leaders is needed, but party discipline from voters is better yet.

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