In a new Daily Beast column, I note that just because there’s sixty votes in the Senate doesn’t mean there’s sixty votes for any given progressive bill:
For example, considerably more people live in the Bronx than live in Montana. But while the Bronx’s 1.4 million people need to share Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand with 18 million other residents of the Empire State, Montana’s cozy crew of 960,000 people has Max Baucus all to themselves. And not only does Baucus’ vote count as much as Schumer’s or Gillibrand’s, he actually has dramatically more power than the senators from New York (or, for that matter, California) because as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, all health-care legislation absolutely must meet with his approval. The fact that Obama only secured the support of 47 percent of Montana’s voters is the kind of thing that must weigh on Baucus’ mind. Similarly with Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad and Obama’s 45 percent of North Dakota’s 641,000 residents.
Nor are Baucus and Conrad alone. Byron Dorgan, Jon Tester, Mark Pryor, Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, Tim Johnson, Mark Begich, Claire McCaskill, and Ben Nelson are all representing states that went for John McCain last fall. Collectively, the states represented by these fine ladies and gentlemen contain about as many people as New York, but their votes are the difference between a majority and a filibuster-breaking supermajority. Meanwhile, among the senators representing states Obama did carry, several—but most notably Indiana’s Evan Bayh—have made no bones about their willingness to defy the president and the party leadership on key votes. And of course Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman went so far as to endorse McCain in the election and is now opposing a key element of Obama’s health-reform agenda.
As I wrote yesterday, to an extent it should be possible to counteract this trend by bringing pressure to bare on Republicans who represent Obama states, but so far that hasn’t been very effective. And there’s my basic point from over the past year which is that normally big-time substantive reform needs to go along to some extent with reform of the political process. The two are intimately related.