It’s been a while since the Democratic Party tasted win. Outplayed since March by a small, but clever Republican opposition, the only tangible political victory the Obama-led Dems has been the gimme-election in New York’s 23rd Congressional District. That contest – more a product of GOP self-destruction than strong Democratic campaigning – still leaves the landslide Democratic government rapidly closing out its first year solidly in the red, scuttled more by their own dissension than their opponent’s unity.
But in the clutch vote for cloture for Obama’s number one legislative priority, Harry Reid’s supposed supermajority Senate is coming through. Securing the last vote mere hours before the roll call, Reid disproved the smart money that he could deliver the votes when it really mattered. Undoubtedly, the votes of Blanche Lincoln and Mary Landrieu, the last holdouts over the cloture motion, came at some significant cost to the more liberal elements of healthcare reform, but early indications suggest the store was not sold to bring healthcare to the floor.
For the more jaded observers among us, that cloture was ever in doubt is further evidence of our decline. In the incomprehensibly meta game of the modern American legislative process, just getting to talk about a bill is a landmark victory. Just getting a bill to a floor debate has, for a decade through the disruptive work of both sides of the aisle, become dental work; a thoroughly unpleasant grind that barely staves off the inevitable loss of its subject.
It is unlikely the modern model of passing law is what our Founding Fathers had in mind. Passing laws should be this difficult, debating them should not particularly with a electoral mandate this large. That a supermajority has to perform this many roots canal in order to get its primary objective accomplished suggests a procedural perversion of the original intent of the Constitution. It’s a status quo for which both political parties should be rightly blamed; a condition where writing law is like making a Hollywood blockbuster – one phone call can kill everything.
But if tonight’s roll call reflects today’s dealmaking, it would seem that a supermajority is worth something after all, if it is an advantage that can only be leveraged once a year.