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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The Improbable Vote

So: at about one o’clock this morning, the United States Senate, or at least the 60 members of its Democratic Caucus, passed the long-awaited cloture vote to proceed to a final consideration of a health care reform bill.
As one who has had an irrational faith that the Senate would get to this point somehow or other, I have to say it was still an improbable accomplishment.
As recently as a few days ago, Joe Lieberman looked all but unreachable for this vote. Then Ben Nelson looked unreachable, even as Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins made it clear they had decided that nearly a year of begging from the White House and Senate Democrats wasn’t enough to overcome the right-wing heat they were experiencing. Then Democrats like Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders came under intense pressure to hold up the bill from progressives determined to derail the latest deal and force a recourse to a 2010 reconciliation strategy.
More fundamentally, a 60-vote Democratic Caucus was an exceptionally improbable achievement. It took (a) a near-sweep by Democrats of winnable seats in 2008; (b) a complex deal to keep arch-apostate Lieberman in the Caucus; (c) a favorable resolution of the near-tie vote in Minnesota after months of GOP legal obstruction; and (d) swift action by the Massachusetts legislature to provide for an interim Senator to replace the late Ted Kennedy.
It all came down to a one a.m. vote after a rare Washington snow storm, with Republicans openly praying that someone (i.e., the infirm Robert Byrd of West Virginia) wouldn’t be physically present.
The current conservative caterwauling about a “rushed” vote is pretty hilarious, given the endless delays undertaken by Senate Democrats all summer and early fall in an effort to engage Republicans, the open and notorious GOP strategy of running out the clock (reminiscent of the Bush strategy for securing the presidency nine years ago), and the front-page status of every detail of the legislation since last spring. Does anyone doubt for a moment that if Democrats had gone along and delayed final Senate action until after the holidays, the same people whining about their spoiled Christmas would be demanding the legislation be put off until after the 2010 elections? Indeed, that’s what we will in fact be hearing in January when a House-Senate conference committee completes its work.
That conference committee, and the House and Senate votes necessary to ratify its report, is far from a slam dunk, given House Democratic resentment of Senate deal-making, and substantive disputes on issues ranging from the public option to abortion. But the struggle to get to 60 votes in the Senate makes the endgame of health care reform look manageable by contrast.

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