Democrats Ponder Loss Of Filibuster-Proof Majority
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Health care overhaul is not the only thing in peril after the Democrats' loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat. That's because nothing of consequence can get through the Senate without the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster and keep moving, which the Democrats, who run the Senate, no longer have.
And they've had little success peeling off votes from Republicans. NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA: As the Senate's number two Democrat, Dick Durbin is his party's chief vote counter. Durbin says as a consequence of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown's victory, the Senate's 57 Democrats and two independents now face a sobering reality.
Senator RICHARD DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): We can't get to 60 with Republican votes.
WELNA: And as Majority Leader Harry Reid lamented yesterday, getting even one Senate Republican to vote with Democrats on big issues has proven next to impossible.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): Republicans have made a political calculation not to participate, and that's evident from what took place last year. Their answer to everything, everything, has been no.
Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): If they want to reach out and negotiate, I'm sure we will be able to sit down. We haven't yet.
WELNA: That's Arizona Republican John McCain. He says neither President Obama nor the Democrats have made what he calls a single legitimate outreach for negotiations over the past year.
Senator MCCAIN: Their strategy has been to try to pick off one or two Republicans and call it bipartisanship. That's bogus and everybody knows it.
WELNA: Maine's Susan Collins is one of three Senate Republicans who did end up voting for President Obama's big stimulus package early last year, when Democrats had only 58 members in their caucus. But Collins said yesterday she's not looking forward to having her vote courted again.
Senator SUSAN COLLINS (Republican, Maine): I think it's a mistake for the administration to try to constantly find the 60th vote. Instead, they should look at the message that was sent by Massachusetts last night.
WELNA: And that message, Collins said, was the Obama administration should pursue what she called a more moderate, inclusive agenda. The Senate's Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, said yesterday it's time Democrats took a more bipartisan approach.
Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): We have said from the very beginning we want to be a full partner. You may have more votes than we do, but if you do it all by yourself, the public probably isn't going to buy it. And I think that's been amply demonstrated back in 2009. Maybe they'll take this message and take a different approach. We'll have to wait and see.
WELNA: According to number two Democrat Durbin, the only decision he and his fellow leaders reached yesterday about how to get to 60 was this...
Sen. DURBIN: In the heat of the moment, with the emotions running high, let's take a breath and really try to make a sensible decision on our strategy. Maybe not today, maybe not even this week, but soon, and let's do it in a thoughtful way.
WELNA: Longtime Congress watcher Darrell West of the Brookings Institution says things don't bode well for President Obama's agenda, including climate change and financial regulation.
Mr. DARRELL WEST (Brookings Institution): It's going to be very difficult for the president to get comprehensive large-scale policies through the Senate. Even though he has a big number of Democrats in that chamber, if he needs 60 votes to get anything done, he is not going to be able to cross that threshold.
WELNA: Some Democrats are even talking about changing the rules of the Senate so a simple majority of 51 votes could block a filibuster. Problem is, to change Senate rules you need 67 votes.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.