Flimsy Reid

With 50 votes and Vice President Dick Cheney’s tiebreaker , Republicans strutted around the Senate as if they had a national mandate. Democrats, given a 60-vote supermajority by voters, do little more than make excuses for failure.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is the chief culprit, routinely citing the need for that magical 60-vote margin as his answer for his chamber’s ineffectiveness. Indeed, the Senate is where good legislation goes to die, much to the chagrin of the more activist House. Reid’s Senate watered down President Barack Obama’s stimulus package, and now the Senate is attempting to block additional money for the wildly successful cash-for-clunkers program that is revitalizing the domestic auto industry. And it’s the Senate that’s currently providing the biggest roadblock to effective healthcare reform.

{mosads}The magical 60-vote margin seemed a plausible — if lame — excuse when the Senate was stuck at 57 Democrats and two Independents in the Democratic caucus, but the swearing-in of Al Franken should have laid that alibi to rest. With 60 votes, the Democrats now own the chamber. Any failures are theirs alone.

But with Reid, there is always another reason for ineffectiveness, and the latest is that Democrats only have 58 senators, because Sens. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Robert Byrd of West Virginia are absent with illness. It may be a cruel turn of fate for Kennedy to see his life’s work come near fruition from a hospital bed, but he (like Byrd) has been unavailable for key votes this session. It is not fair to either of their substantial legacies for their absence to become an excuse for Democratic impotence on healthcare.

Democrats, therefore, are faced with two choices: admit that the problem doesn’t lie with Byrd and Kennedy, but with senators like Montana’s Max Baucus and North Dakota’s Kent Conrad, who seem hell-bent on destroying healthcare reform for the benefit of their insurance-company benefactors — or gently ask that Kennedy and Byrd retire.

West Virginia’s Democratic governor could immediately replace Byrd by appointment , but Massachusetts is a bit more complicated — the seat would remain vacant for six months before a special election would fill the vacancy. State lawmakers eliminated the right of their governor to fill Senate vacancies in 2004 to prevent the then-Republican governor from filling John Kerry’s seat with a Republican if Kerry won the presidency.

A six-month vacancy would present serious problems for the Obama and Democratic agenda, but Massachusetts lawmakers could quickly tweak the law, borrowing from the Lone Star State: Texas allows governors to fill Senate vacancies for an interim, while voters get to make the final call several months later. It’s a perfect balance between a state’s need for representation in D.C. and the need to fill such vacancies democratically.

This is obviously a sensitive matter, as Byrd and Kennedy are larger-than-life figures in the political world. But the healthcare of tens of millions of Americans is on the line. Democrats need to be at full strength for this battle. If Byrd and Kennedy are no longer able to engage, then the two venerable senators should consider stepping aside so that substitutes can fulfill their legacies.

However, this scenario is only necessary if Byrd and Kennedy are truly no longer capable of casting votes. Given Reid’s penchant for excuse-making, that’s not a certainty. From the first day he controlled the chamber, it’s been clear Reid would suffer with a true 60-seat majority; at last, he’d be held accountable for the failures of his caucus to deliver the change the voters demanded.

Moulitsas is founder and publisher of Daily Kos (www.dailykos.com).

Tags Al Franken Barack Obama Harry Reid John Kerry Max Baucus

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