Sixty-four senators have a lot more power than they think

All weekend long, this story has been bothering me:

More than 60 senators from both parties are calling on President Obama to lead them in developing a comprehensive plan to rein in record budget deficits, a powerful sign of bipartisan willingness to abandon long-held positions on entitlement spending and taxes.

In a letter sent Friday to the White House, the 64 senators urge Obama “to support a broad approach to solving our current budget problems” along the lines of recommendations issued last year by a presidentially appointed commission. That plan calls for sharp cuts in government spending, elimination or reduction of dozens of popular tax breaks and an overhaul of Social Security that would include raising the retirement age to 69 for today’s toddlers.

“While we may not agree with every aspect of the Commission’s recommendations, we believe that its work represents an important foundation to achieve meaningful progress on our debt,” the senators wrote. “By approaching these negotiations comprehensively, with a strong signal of support from you, we believe that we can achieve consensus on these important fiscal issues.”

I first read this on Friday, I think, and thought it seemed, well, ok. I mean, great – 64 senators want to do something about the long term deficit. It’s a bipartisan group. They were asking someone to tackle a tough issue. So… good?

Then, over the weekend, it hit me. This was sixty-four senators. It’s an actual supermajority. A bipartisan supermajority. Heck, add three more votes in, and it’s a veto-proof majority.

During the health care reform debate, one of the lessons I learned was that you really needed 60 votes in the senate to get major legislation passed. Fifty-nine was inadequate. But, as those who opposed the PPACA learned, with sixty you can pass even something many people abhor.

They have sixty-four.

If sixty-four senators want to do something, they can.  They can march into the Capitol Building and pass actual legislation that solves the current budget problems. They don’t need to ask for help, and they don’t need the President to do anything more than sign it afterwards. They are fully capable of doing quite a bit on their own.

“This letter is another sign — following the work of the Fiscal Commission, and the ongoing negotiations with the Gang of Six — that members of the Senate appear ready to tackle the serious fiscal challenges facing the country,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which has encouraged the Gang of Six talks. “No one would have predicted this a year ago, and now look at how many people are signing up to be a part of the solution.”

Um… no. Anytime sixty-four senators want “to tackle the serious fiscal challenges facing the country” then can. They can go pass a bill. Easily, in fact.

Go ahead. We’ll wait.

UPDATE: Looks like I’m not the only one who had this thought.

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