Democrats have regained a one-seat majority in the Senate today. This is not only because Paul Kirk was appointed to temporarily fill Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts, but because Senator Robert Byrd was released from the hospital:
Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) was released from the hospital Thursday following a 48-hour stay for observation. Byrd was taken to the hospital Tuesday after a fall at his Northern Virginia home.
Byrd had been hospitalized for quite some time back in the spring, and was only recently re-admitted. He actually cast a vote back on Friday, so he will be around to vote on health care.
For the first time all year, Democrats actually have 60 voting Senators. Given that they have shown no desire to challenge the Republican-fueled culture of the 60-vote Senate, this unfortunately means they only have a one-seat majority in the Senate. Sixty Democrats and forty Republicans are apparently worth almost exactly the same in terms of actual voting power.
With 60 votes, the push to pass health care and a public option will now focus on getting 60-votes to prevent a Republican filibuster, rather than reconciliation or the nuclear option. Even though, because of the nuclear option, only 51 votes can break any filibuster, that sort of aggressiveness just doesn't match up with the Democratic Senate caucus. Further, even though Senate experts say that a robust public option can be passed through reconciliation, Republicans will file procedural motions to require 60 votes for reconciliation to be approved. Even though the nuclear option can be used to dismiss those motions, as already noted Senate Democrats are not willing to use the nuclear option. Finally, at least one Democrat, the aforementioned Robert Byrd, switched to vote against the budget precisely because he doesn't want to use reconciliation for health care.
So, as Congress Matters reports, the focus for health care will be on getting all 60 Senate Democrats to vote for cloture, even if they vote against the final bill. While I still intend to launch a long-term campaign to eliminate the filibuster and restore majority rule in the Senate, in the short-term this appears to be the path we will go down.
Time for an up or down vote on health care. Let's see if finally getting 60 Democratic votes in the Senate was worth it.