Why 60 Votes Matters: A Case Study on Today's Medicare Vote
by Jonathan Singer, Wed Jul 09, 2008 at 01:25:58 PM EDT
We have had an ongoing debate on the virtue of pursuing 60 seats in the United States Senate, whether that number really matters or if it is just an excuse for not getting things done. This afternoon, just within the past few minutes, we have seen a clear reason why 60 votes matters.
A couple weeks ago, the Senate voted on legislation that would stave off greater than a 10 percent cut to doctors providing service to Medicare patients, as well as certain veterans. Although the measure passed overwhelmingly in the House -- to the tune of 355 to 59, with most Republicans voting in favor of the measure -- Republicans in the Senate decided to filibuster the bill leaving it a single vote short of attaining cloture.
Harry Reid subsequently switched his "yes" vote to a "no" in order to preserve the option of bringing the bill back to the floor for another vote -- a prerogative he made use of this afternoon. And just a few minutes ago, Senator Ted Kennedy, who has not been back to the Senate since he underwent brain surgery, made his triumphant return to the chamber to provide the Medicare bill its 60th supporter in the House.
Immediately thereafter, nine GOP Senators, all of whom had been to that point steadfastly in opposition to the bill -- even in the face of a strong push from the Democrats and a super strong push from the AMA, which has been an overwhelming supporter of the GOP in years past -- switched their position on the legislation. All of the sudden, as a result of getting a 60th vote, the bill went from having 59 to 39 support in the Senate to having 69 to 30 support -- more than enough to override a threatened veto from President Bush (assuming those Senators vote the same on an override vote as they did on the cloture vote). Not even a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney to lobby Senate Republicans could stem this movement.
This is exactly what the power of 60 is and why it is so important to strive for 60 Democratic Senators in the 111th Congress. It is why we at MyDD have set up our Road to 60 Act Blue page raising money for the candidates who will help tear down John Ensign's 41-seat firewall. When a bill or an amendment has enough support to sustain a filibuster, it is much easier for the minority party to keep in line. But once the majority can get to 60 votes -- a task made all the much more easy if the party has 60 seats, or close to it (even if not all of the members vote together on a particular issue) -- Senators in the minority are much more free to vote their conscience (or at least as the political winds are blowing) with the majority.
This is not always the case, and it will not always be the case. Having 60 Democratic Senators come January would not necessarily mean that the war would end immediately, or that universal healthcare would be easily achieved. But as you can see with today's vote on Medicare payments to doctors, 60 votes matters -- and even getting one more voice on the path to that goal can make all the difference in the world.