What Franken's Win Does and Doesn't Mean
By Ben Pershing
The 2008 election began 545 days ago with the Iowa caucus, and it ended yesterday in Norm Coleman's backyard in St. Paul, where he finally conceded victory to Al Franken in their Senate contest. The Republic had been functioning just fine without a junior senator from Minnesota, so what does Franken's win really mean?
First, it definitely does not mean that Democrats have a filibuster-proof ticket to passing whatever they want. Though technically Democrats have now reached the magic number of 60 senators, it's worth remembering that for practical purposes, the majority may have just 58. Edward Kennedy is still receiving cancer treatments in Massachusetts, and Robert Byrd is now home from the hospital but with no timeframe for returning to the Senate. When the major procedural votes happen on health care and other issues, will either of those aging legends be able to get to the Senate floor? The question may sound indelicate, but as David Espo writes, "Neither man has been in the Capitol for weeks, and it is not known when, or even whether, they will return."
Second, even if Democrats do have 60 votes, there's no guarantee of unanimity, as the ongoing intraparty disputes over health care illustrate. Just as Franken gives Democrats another vote, Bernie Sanders tells Ezra Klein he's establishing the "Coalition of the Unwilling," meaning that he is unwilling to go along with Max Baucus' strategy of trying craft a compromise that will attract Republican votes. Beyond health care, unions are also touting Franken's win as another step toward passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, or "card check" bill. But that measure isn't at the finish line yet either, with multiple Democrats still opposed or at least hedging on it. Climate change is also a long ways from consensus in the chamber.
Posted at 8:28 AM ET on Jul 1, 2009
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