- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Monday sought to dial down expectations for the Democrats’ new supermajority as Sen.-elect Al Franken arrived on Capitol Hill.

“I’m confident that Sen.-elect Franken will make a difference, but we need more than just his presence to effectively address the nation’s many problems,” Mr. Reid said in a joint appearance with the soon-to-be senator from Minnesota.

Mr. Franken’s swearing in by Vice President Joseph R. Biden on Tuesday will mark the end of an eight-month legal battle with incumbent Republican Norm Coleman.

Mr. Franken - plus the chamber’s two independents - put the Democratic caucus at the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome Republican procedural objections to their agenda. The boon comes as the Senate is gearing up to act on two of President Obama’s biggest initiatives - health care and climate change - in addition to his nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

But Mr. Franken, a former comedian whose claim to fame includes being a writer and cast member on “Saturday Night Live,” echoed Mr. Reid in cautioning against high expectations now that Democrats have - at least on paper - enough votes to defeat a Republican filibuster.

“A lot has been made of this number 60,” he said at the low-key press conference. “The number I’m focused on is the number two. I see myself as the second senator from the state of Minnesota.”

Just as fervently as Democrats are seeking to temper the news of Mr. Franken’s seating, Senate Republicans are ascribing them full responsibility for what happens next on Capitol Hill - suggesting that Democrats will risk embarrassment if they fail to push through Mr. Obama’s agenda or that voters will punish them at the polls if the policies turn out to be unpopular.

“With their supermajority, the era of excuses and finger-pointing is now over,” Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said last week after Mr. Coleman conceded to Mr. Franken.

“With just 59 votes, Senate Democrats in recent months have passed trillion-dollar spending bills, driven up America’s debt, made every American taxpayer a shareholder in the auto industry and now want Washington to take over America’s health care system. It’s troubling to think about what they might now accomplish with 60 votes.”

But when it comes to the magic number of 60, Democrats appear keenly aware that all is easier said than done.

For starters, the Democratic caucus includes several moderates, such as Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, who have not been afraid to assert themselves on key votes such as the $787 billion stimulus bill or the $3.6 trillion fiscal 2010 budget.

And the caucus includes several members for whom regional interests trump party label. Passage of critical bills, such as energy reform, are more complicated because of the interests of Rust Belt and farm-state Democrats.

Adding to the challenge is that Democrats are usually operating without the votes of the chamber’s longest-serving members, Sens. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who have health problems. That means that, at least for the foreseeable future, Mr. Reid will continue to seek the votes of a few moderate Republicans to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to cut off filibusters.

On Monday, Mr. Reid said his party will “continue to offer Senate Republicans a seat at the negotiating table.”

“It’s up to them,” he said, “to decide where they’ll continue to sit down and be the party of ‘no’ or sit down and work for the common good of the people.”

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