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Democrats' 60-vote majority in Senate: So close and yet so far

June 9, 2009 |  9:08 am
West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd attends Barack Obama Inauguration Jan. 20, 2009

For months now, ever since the November elections left comedian-turned-politician Al Franken dangling by a few hundred votes in Minnesota's senatorial contest, Democrats in Washington have looked forward to the day when they might claim a 60-vote majority in the Senate. With 60 votes, they could defeat any effort by Republicans to filibuster, and extend President Obama's honeymoon with legislative victories.

For a time, the fates seemed to be cooperating. Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter changed parties, giving the Democrats one more vote. Even discredited former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, indicted for trying to sell Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder, managed to send a Democrat to Washington.

But now, even as the Minnesota Supreme Court gets closer to confirming Franken's victory over Republican Norm Coleman, Democrats despair that two of the Senate's titans -- Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, battling brain cancer, and 91-year-old West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd, hospitalized with a staph infection -- are ailing, putting the elusive 60 votes further away. 

In a thoughtful article in this morning's Washington Post, Paul Kane argues that Democrats actually haven't been playing with a full house for a while now. For much of last year, the Senate lost those with presidential ambitions -- Republican John McCain of Arizona  and Democrats Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, Joe Biden of Delaware, Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois -- to the campaign trail. In fact, it's been 15 months since all 100 senators have come to the floor of the chamber for a vote.

So, for now, the elusive 60 is still just a goal.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Sen. Robert C. Byrd. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

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