Franken Wins in Minnesota Senate Seat, But Don't Buy the Democrats' 60 Vote Hype

Parties simply aren't that ideologically cohesive.

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By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Al Franken's arrival as the junior senator from Minnesota will give the Democrats a much-ballyhooed 60th vote and "filibuster-proof" majority. Depending on your ideological persuasion that means that there will be no check on Democratic big government malevolence or that with their help Obama can actually start to get things done—no more pussy-footing around with the Party of No.

Don't buy the hype.

As I've written before on this blog and in my column, the 60 number is illusory. Yes, there are now 60 Senate Democrats, but in order to be "filibuster-proof" they need to act in concert. And while they will do so mostly, and while they will do so broadly, the fact of U.S. politics is that neither party is ideologically unified. According to National Journal, Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, was the most liberal member of the Senate last year, voting lefty more than 92.7 percent of her colleagues. Now-Democratic colleague Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, by contrast, only had a 44.8 percent rating (was more liberal than 44.8 percent of his colleagues). The numbers mean that there is huge room for disagreement between Murray and Specter —and it only takes one of them objecting to remove the magic from the Democrats' 60.

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