The basic odds make it fairly unlikely that the Democrats will maintain their Senate majority. They only hold a narrow 53-47 edge after the 2010 midterms, and the party must defend 23 seats in 2012, compared to just ten for Republicans. Their troubles only increased when moderate Democrats hailing from conservative states—Ben Nelson and Kent Conrad as the most notable—decided that now was the time to retire, all but ceding their spots to the GOP. Every scenario looked doom and gloom for their chances. But then Republicans decided to sabotage those odds. First Olympia Snowe announced her retirement, after growing tired of her party's partisan rancor. Her seat is expected to go to the independent—but Democratic friendly—candidate Angus King.
Dick Lugar hanging out with some Hollywood liberal. (Flickr/Talk Radio News Service)
Today in Indiana, Senator Richard Lugar will probably be defeated in a Republican primary by Richard Mourdock, the state treasurer, 3-time failed congressional candidate, and Tea Party favorite. Lugar might be the single most respected member of the Senate, a guy who has been in office for 35 years, has carved out areas of interest and expertise that don't bring with them anything in the way of contributions or votes (foreign affairs, nuclear proliferation), and finds areas where he can work with Democrats. And that, of course, was his undoing. Perhaps Lugar's greatest sin in their eyes was that he maintained a good relationship with Barack Obama (horrors!). The Tea Party may be fading, but it had enough left in its tank to knock Lugar out.
Despite the defection of Bob Casey, Joe Manchin, and Ben Nelson, Senate Democrats (with the aid of Olympia Snowe) were able to block a Republican-sponsored measure that would give employers the right to reject any health care coverage for any reason. Sahil Kapur gives a rundown of the fight at Talking Points Memo:
Has the political center disappeared? The Wall Street Journal thinks so, and cites the retirements of Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson and Maine Senator Olympia Snowe as further evidence that moderation has died in American politics:
Ms. Snowe is one of an increasingly rare breed of senator willing to back legislation crafted by the other side. After President Barack Obama came to office, she supplied a crucial vote for his stimulus plan and supported his health law in committee, though she later opposed it on the floor. She also backed the New Start arms-reduction treaty at the end of last year.
We'll be talking more about the debt deal later, but something else in the meantime: Ezra Klein points out that a year and a half from now, there will be a looming deadline in which Democrats, if you can believe it, will actually hold the upper hand:
New York’s passage of same-sex marriage legislation Friday was immediately followed by praise for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s leadership and his ability to assemble a coalition of Republican and Democratic lawmakers. The New York Times ran a glowing account of his maneuvering, highlighting his willingness to define a goal, stick to it, and use every method available to reach it.
Last week, Rep. Peter DeFaziointroduced an alternative to the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate, a way to get as many people as possible into the system through a different set of means than the mandate's fines. Would it be more effective than the mandate? Maybe, maybe not, but it's worth thinking about. One thing it would do is make all the lawsuits against the ACA moot, which would be nice. Then this week, a few Democratic senators started talking about the same thing. Here's how Politicoplayed it:
Ari Berman wants fewer Blue Dogs in the Democratic coalition:
[...] Democrats would be in better shape, and would accomplish more, with a smaller and more ideologically cohesive caucus. It’s a sentiment that even Mr. Dean now echoes. “Having a big, open-tent Democratic Party is great, but not at the cost of getting nothing done,” he said. Since the passage of health care reform, few major bills have passed the Senate. Although the Democrats have a 59-vote majority, party leaders can barely find the votes for something as benign as extending unemployment benefits.
I think this could be a huge deal for the relationship between gay voters and the Democratic party. Over 75 percent of the public wants the ban ended, and yet even when the Democrats control both Houses and have a president opposed to the policy, they failed to end it in two years. Why? Because, sadly, it was not a real priority; and because the main lobby group, the Human Rights Campaign, is so enmeshed in the Democratic party establishment, it has no clout at all.
Once more, let us try to plumb the depths of Sen. Ben Nelson's brain -- a taxing sport given the man's incoherent policy views. Nelson has been one of the Democrats most reluctant to vote on extending unemployment benefits -- even as job openings continue to outnumber job-seekers -- and held up votes on key stimulus measures targeted at everything from small business to infrastructure. Why has he been so reluctant to vote with his party?
Just a quick update on the state of financial reform: We're edging closer and closer to the endgame. Now that Sens. Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Scott Brown have confirmed their support, Democrats ought to have the 60 votes they need to pass the bill and send it to President Obama's desk.