7.07.2009 | Democrats' supermajority dilemma

Al Franken was sworn in today. But now that Democrats have their magic number of 60 Senators, they don't. Power's a funny thing like that. And — by way of the Alanis Morrisette I heard playing on the radio on the way home this evening — so is life:

"Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything's okay and everything's going right"

— Alanis Morrisette, "Ironic"

"Democrats now hold 60 seats, enough to block filibusters — but only if every Democrat and two independents show up, and they all vote together. The chamber's most senior members, Robert Byrd and Edward M. Kennedy, are ill and haven't voted in weeks. Without them there, Democrats need the support of at least two Republicans."

— Associated Press, "Democrats wave Franken as trophy over limping GOP"

It took Franken so long to get seated that two of the Democrats' oldest — and most powerful — Senators aren't even around to help keep the majority together. And Lieberman and Sanders aren't even technically Democrats. So can we really call it a supermajority?

In a body like the Senate where even one senator can keep legislation from passing, the job of majority leader will always be one of herding cats. And thanks to the way our country's founders set it up, there will always be a fragile tension in the balance of power.


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