U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

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U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Kachi » Mon Oct 27, 2008 7:25 pm UTC

You hear a lot of talk on the news lately about the potential for a democratic super majority. Right now, of course, there's a democratic majority in congress, but they can't go crazy with a republican president in office. Odds are on that at minimum, we'll have a democratic president with democratic majority in congress.

But what exactly does a super majority mean? I know there's an extent to which not even the president can veto a bill, and I've heard mention of not being able to filibuster the bill, but all in all, what would this change? Do filibusters actually accomplish anything other than stalling the vote? So, those are questions that I have.

But another thought that crosses my mind is the value of being... deceptive, on policy issues, for Barack Obama. He can propose relatively moderate policies now, but then take office and probably get almost any legislation he wants to pass. Which frankly I'd almost definitely be fine with, but supposing this were the case, on what issues do you think Obama might veer a little further left from his platform, if he takes office?

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Garm » Mon Oct 27, 2008 7:43 pm UTC

Well seeing as how the current democratic majority basically vetted everything that the Bush administration proposed for the last two years I think that everything will be business as usual. Meaning everything will continue to get screwed up. The most important party in Washington isn't the Democrats or the Republicans, it's the Incumbents. Our government is primarily concerned with getting reelected.
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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby 22/7 » Mon Oct 27, 2008 7:54 pm UTC

@ the OP, the most important thing it will tell me (and I hope the Democrats get that supermajority this November) is whether or not US politicians are worth anything at all. Not long ago, the Dems (fairly rightly so, to be honest) were calling out the Reps for fucking up the country. Well, the US by and large agreed with them and voted them into a majority in Congress. When this happened you would have been well within your rights to assume that the second coming had suddenly occurred with how much hot air was being blown around and how excited Dems in general were. Then they essentially sat on their hands (at home, for some of it), claiming that they couldn't get anything passed without an even stronger majority in the Congress because of Bush. Fair enough, get a Dem in the White House and a supermajority in the Congress and go fix shit. So yeah, basically I'm hoping that they weren't full of shit and will actually be able to get things done.

As I see it right now, they've got 1 strike for and 1 against them right now in the "getting things done/fixing shit" category.
FOR: They're not the Republicans.
AGAINST: They're still politicians.
Totally not a hypothetical...

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Kachi » Mon Oct 27, 2008 8:01 pm UTC

I mirror your sentiments, but I guess what I'm really curious about is if it's in any way crucial that they get a super majority as opposed to just a regular majority. If they don't, what are the differences, and how will it hurt their legislative abilities?

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Azrael » Mon Oct 27, 2008 8:04 pm UTC

A super majority of the same party as the president would allow that party to pass any legislation they wanted to, without the other party being able to prevent it at all. Obviously, that is a tremendously advantageous position to be in.
Last edited by Azrael on Mon Oct 27, 2008 8:07 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby 22/7 » Mon Oct 27, 2008 8:06 pm UTC

How are they not able to pass anything they want at all with a simple majority (51%) in both houses of Congress, though?
Totally not a hypothetical...

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Azrael » Mon Oct 27, 2008 8:07 pm UTC

Move from the edit:

A simple majority can still be blocked via procedural tactics (filibusters, notably) whereas a 3/5th majority cannot.

I also believe that committees are populated roughly based on the general makeup of each house? So you'd have a hard majority in committee as well.

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Bubbles McCoy » Mon Oct 27, 2008 8:11 pm UTC

I guess I see conflict in the capital as rather essential for anything good to get done. If the Democrats are just handed a supermajority, then they will be fairly unresponsive to public demands and further their own private agendas without holding back (like the Republicans under Bush). I see the Clinton/Newt era as one of the most effective periods in contemporary American politics, as even though Newt is an embarassment to humanity he and Clinton got some good shit done (moderated spending increases during a booming period, noticable cuts to superfluous programs, and just generally not doing any serious screwing up that is hard to reverse). Ideally, I would like to see Obama have a decent majority for maybe two years or so to lay the groundwork for reform (but not over 60, I think the fillibuster is an effective balance of power), then see the Republicans take a slim majority and have a political repeat of the Clinton era (without the transition to a Bush-like figure though and the endless investigations of Obama). The power divide makes both parties fairly responsive to public demands, making it the ideal balance for the American people.

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby GreaterSteven » Mon Oct 27, 2008 11:08 pm UTC

The way I see it, personally, is that the only way to really, really, really get stuff done is to have a super majority. I kinda feel like the democrats haven't really done ANYTHING, even with their majority in congress presently. Granted, I have very little experience because of my age.

I'm hoping for a super majority to see what they're going to do to combat this nonsense. And if they don't do anything, well, you know. I learned my lesson.

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby JoshuaZ » Mon Oct 27, 2008 11:25 pm UTC

22/7 wrote:How are they not able to pass anything they want at all with a simple majority (51%) in both houses of Congress, though?


First, unlike with many parlimentaries systems it is easy for members of the House or Senate to vote against what their party necessary calls for. So if you have a 51% majority for one party but a substantial fraction of that group often votes with the other party it isn't that effective.

Furthermore, in the Senate it is possible to do what is called a "filibuster" where a Senator may talk essentially indefinitely. In some Filibusters the senators will actually talk about the subject, but in other cases they will read from a dictionary or something equally useless. This essentially allows senators to hold debate on a measure indefinitel. The only way to kill a filibuster (ignoring the so-called "nuclear option") is to get a supermajority vote in the Senate- at least 3/5ths of senators (so 60 senators).

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Kachi » Mon Oct 27, 2008 11:45 pm UTC

Ah, see I was under the impression that they had enacted some sort of limits on filibusters, so that you could not just read from the phone book forever. If that were the case, filibusters would not prevent the passing of legislation, only delay it.

That's why I was confused about all the talk of a filibuster-proof congress. Seems like we can't get anything done without a super majority then.

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby GreaterSteven » Mon Oct 27, 2008 11:48 pm UTC

Kachi wrote:Ah, see I was under the impression that they had enacted some sort of limits on filibusters, so that you could not just read from the phone book forever. If that were the case, filibusters would not prevent the passing of legislation, only delay it.

That's why I was confused about all the talk of a filibuster-proof congress. Seems like we can't get anything done without a super majority then.


If I remember correctly, and don't quote me on this, everything's fair game provided you stand the entire time and don't lean on the podium.

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Intercept » Tue Oct 28, 2008 12:02 am UTC

GreaterSteven wrote:
Kachi wrote:Ah, see I was under the impression that they had enacted some sort of limits on filibusters, so that you could not just read from the phone book forever. If that were the case, filibusters would not prevent the passing of legislation, only delay it.

That's why I was confused about all the talk of a filibuster-proof congress. Seems like we can't get anything done without a super majority then.


If I remember correctly, and don't quote me on this, everything's fair game provided you stand the entire time and don't lean on the podium.


I'm pretty sure that's true. I want to say there's another way to end it besides cloture, but I can't think of it. Maybe there used to be.
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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Lumpy » Tue Oct 28, 2008 12:05 am UTC

Aside from the filibuster, which can be over-ridden with 60 out of 100 senators voting to end the debate, a single senator can prevent debate from taking in the first place (and thus the bill from going to a vote) with a rare maneuver called a "hold." Tom Coburn of Oklahoma had used it 80 times.

Additionally, it can be expected that a few senators will defect on any vote, depending on how close it is to an election year, how badly they want to cast an air of party independence, and which way the wind is blowing. This group would include Joe Lieberman on the Iraq War, Joe Rockefeller on privacy, etc.

However, sometimes Democrats have used these people as excuses. Steve Hoyer once said that although the Democratic Party was opposed to the FISA Amendment Bill approving government wiretapping, he couldn't help but bring it up because of the Blue Dog Democrats, even though it's the Majority Leader that sets the voting agenda. Entirely unrelatedly, the Blue Dog Democrats (a group of conservative Democrats from the South) got a party thrown for them by AT&T afterward.

In 2006, we were promised subpoena power, minimum wage being raised, and PAYGO. They did vote to raise the minimum wage, and they did adhere to PAYGO...for a while, until the bailout. They did vote to hold Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten in contempt, but the Justice Department decided not to follow their directions and prosecute, so the House of Representatives sued them to get them to do so, and it's tangled up in a district with a Bush appointee judge now.

Then they voted to subpoena Karl Rove and he didn't show up, either. They said there would be a vote on contempt, come rain or shine. They said they'd show them that checks and balances still exist, that they they won't the executive branch run wild. Oh, but first they had to do that tax refund. Then they had to debate FISA. Then they had to debate the bailout. Wouldn't you know it, holding Karl Rove in contempt got delayed from July all the way until never with their procrastination!

They could have voted to hold these officials in "contempt of Congress," where the Capitol Police would arrest them themselves and hold them in the basement for their own trial. Unfortunately, Democrats got scared when Republicans started squawking about how they'd look like stupid partisans out for revenge. A campaign promise broken for the sake of political opportunism.

I think only 30% of the blame falls with the Republicans and 70% falls with shifting the blame around. If they get the House, Senate, and presidency, with a near filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, then there will of course be no excuses. I still think the House and Senate would cower before Republicans saying that they're out for revenge if they investigate the Bush administration, unless Obama did something.

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby JoshuaZ » Tue Oct 28, 2008 12:06 am UTC

GreaterSteven wrote:
If I remember correctly, and don't quote me on this, everything's fair game provided you stand the entire time and don't lean on the podium.


Rule 22 allows some leeway. A Senator can hold things up indefinitely without using the traditional fililbuster but the individual presiding over the Senate can require that an actual filibuster occur. I don't remember any rule about not leaning on the podium and I don't see it in a quick search of the senate rules.

Intercept wrote:
I'm pretty sure that's true. I want to say there's another way to end it besides cloture, but I can't think of it. Maybe there used to be.


The only other way to possibly end it is the so called Nuclear Option which is a bit complicated but tries to bypass the relevant rules. There was a whole fight over this back over the Bush judicial appointees.

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Bubbles McCoy » Tue Oct 28, 2008 12:51 am UTC

I'm under the impression that for the most part, fillibusters are only used in truly unusual circumstances, even in 45 senators want to vote down a bill they will not fillibuster unless the bill runs flagrantly opposite of their own beliefs.

It seems to me that the Democrats just don't have the will/unity/motive to do anything they promised, and I don't see how giving them complete power over our government is going to change that. They haven't exactly shown themselves to be opponents of pork either, and giving them unchecked power is highly unlikely to demonstrate any sort of reversal on this front.

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby GreaterSteven » Tue Oct 28, 2008 12:53 am UTC

I'm looking for a few specific things from a democratic majority. A cut in spending/taxes is not one of them.

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby MartianInvader » Tue Oct 28, 2008 1:17 am UTC

22/7 wrote:How are they not able to pass anything they want at all with a simple majority (51%) in both houses of Congress, though?


Everybody's mentioned filibusters, but let's also remember the good ol' presidential veto. Doesn't that require 2/3 majority to overturn? And Bush has often flat-out stated "If this passes congress, I'll veto it." Makes it a lot tougher to get things done.
Let's have a fervent argument, mostly over semantics, where we all claim the burden of proof is on the other side!

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Kachi » Tue Oct 28, 2008 1:30 am UTC

Well, it's always important to acknowledge that the federal branch can only do so much, and really, governors do not get nearly as much attention as they ought to. Everyone looks to the president and congress to do everything, when the truly big changes often come from overlooked branches like the state executive and the federal judiciary.

But I think a democratic federal government will at least make some steps forward in health care and education, and that would be enough for me.

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Wiglaf » Tue Oct 28, 2008 1:48 am UTC

Bubbles McCoy wrote:It seems to me that the Democrats just don't have the ... unity...

Emphasis mine: People seem to think that the Democratic party is stronger than it actually is.
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As for a supermajority, maybe not yet. Neuroscientist Dr. Wang at election.princeton.edu calls for a 19% chance of a supermajority (with scatterd thunderstorms later in the evening) but notes poor polling in some of these states. Even if the Democrats commanded a 60-40 split, I doubt they would be able to block any filibusters: there's probably more conservative Democrats than liberal Republicans, on both social issues and fiscal issues.

The presidential veto still holds too much power, the Dems would need about 18 seats in the House above what's predicted.

Side note: I have huge respect for Dr. Wang, for putting all that statistical data in front of us.

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Bubbles McCoy » Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:24 am UTC

GreaterSteven wrote:I'm looking for a few specific things from a democratic majority. A cut in spending/taxes is not one of them.


Um, have you been paying attention to how much spending has gone up in recent years? I don't think what we need now is even more... and seeing as how the deficit might reach $1T this year, you can't possibly expect to tax your way out of it and have room left over for spending (or for the tripling of size of the farmbill among other things, handily passed by both parties over the summer).

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby GreaterSteven » Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:31 am UTC

Um, have you been paying attention to how much spending has gone up in recent years? I don't think what we need now is even more... and seeing as how the deficit might reach $1T this year, you can't possibly expect to tax your way out of it and have room left over for spending (or for the tripling of size of the farmbill among other things, handily passed by both parties over the summer).


I did not say I supported increased taxes and spending. I just said it's not a primary factor for me. Even under Obama's plan my taxes won't be going up. There are things more important, for me.

Besides, no matter who you vote into office, nobody's gonna do shit about this country's debt. Sickening, I know, but true.

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Lycur » Tue Oct 28, 2008 5:15 am UTC

[fantasy]
The Obama administration gets two years of effective cooperation among Democrats to overhaul the American government. At this point conflict between blue dog and more financially liberal democrats comes to a head prompting a schism within the party. Blue dogs and socially moderate republicans together form a large, effective voting bloc. In an effort to increase republican standing in the Senate the party takes increasingly socially liberal positions, infuriating the religous right. This is further excaberated come 2012 when evangelicals are further angered as Sarah Palin is passed over for both her party's nominations. In an effort to appease rabid Hillary Supporters and keep the party unified, Obama embraces a much more ambitious healthcare plan: this further angers the fiscal conservatives within the party's ranks. A narrow election victory for the democrats sets the stage for a strengthened relationship between the blue dogs and moderate republicans to form a slim senate majority. This coallition forms itself into a new political party, leaving the American political landscape as a contest between socially moderate fiscal conservatives and socially progressive financial moderates, with the religous far right as a viable but marginalized third party.[/fantasy]

A man can dream...

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby 22/7 » Tue Oct 28, 2008 1:50 pm UTC

JoshuaZ wrote:
GreaterSteven wrote:
If I remember correctly, and don't quote me on this, everything's fair game provided you stand the entire time and don't lean on the podium.
Rule 22 allows some leeway. A Senator can hold things up indefinitely without using the traditional fililbuster but the individual presiding over the Senate can require that an actual filibuster occur. I don't remember any rule about not leaning on the podium and I don't see it in a quick search of the senate rules.
I was under the impression that they actually had to talk about the topic at hand for the first hour, but after that they can read from a dictionary/phone book/etc.
Bubbles McCoy wrote:
GreaterSteven wrote:I'm looking for a few specific things from a democratic majority. A cut in spending/taxes is not one of them.
Um, have you been paying attention to how much spending has gone up in recent years? I don't think what we need now is even more... and seeing as how the deficit might reach $1T this year, you can't possibly expect to tax your way out of it and have room left over for spending (or for the tripling of size of the farmbill among other things, handily passed by both parties over the summer).
I thought we had already surpassed the 1 trillion mark... apparently were at about 10 times that right now.
MartianInvader wrote:
22/7 wrote:How are they not able to pass anything they want at all with a simple majority (51%) in both houses of Congress, though?
Everybody's mentioned filibusters, but let's also remember the good ol' presidential veto. Doesn't that require 2/3 majority to overturn? And Bush has often flat-out stated "If this passes congress, I'll veto it." Makes it a lot tougher to get things done.
Odd I figured Bush would be out by next year. Did you have some information that the rest of us need to see?
Totally not a hypothetical...

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Rysto » Tue Oct 28, 2008 2:05 pm UTC

I thought we had already surpassed the 1 trillion mark... apparently were at about 10 times that right now.

He said deficit, not national debt.

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby 22/7 » Tue Oct 28, 2008 2:38 pm UTC

Rysto wrote:
I thought we had already surpassed the 1 trillion mark... apparently were at about 10 times that right now.

He said deficit, not national debt.
Ah, yes. Carry on then.
Totally not a hypothetical...

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby frezik » Thu Oct 30, 2008 12:05 am UTC

One thing I remembered just now is that the movie and music industry, being based in California, is far more tied into the Democratic party than Republicans. For instance, in 2000, Jack Valenti asked Bill Clinton to become a lobbist for the MPAA (though Clinton turned it down).

Expect some new copyright legislation.
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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Fat Tony » Thu Oct 30, 2008 1:26 am UTC

Then, of course, there's the hyper-majority: when there are so many Democrats in office that there is nothing stopping them from taking away our second and tenth amendments.
Once there is a two-thirds majority in the House, a two-thirds majority in the Senate, and a 3/4 majority in 3/4 of the state legislatures, that party can do whatever they want.
Of course, this is based on my minimal knowledge of law and could be completely meaningless.
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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Intercept » Thu Oct 30, 2008 1:50 am UTC

I have a feeling your beliefs on the second and tenth amendments are flawed.

The second amendment says for a militia.

For the tenth amendment I'm sure you're probably referring to abortion and gay marriage type scenarios. It is perfectly constitutional to make amendments regarding them because they are then in the constitution and the tenth no longer applies. There's no such thing as an unconstitutional amendment.
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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Fat Tony » Thu Oct 30, 2008 2:03 am UTC

Intercept wrote:For the tenth amendment I'm sure you're probably referring to abortion and gay marriage type scenarios. It is perfectly constitutional to make amendments regarding them because they are then in the constitution and the tenth no longer applies. There's no such thing as an unconstitutional amendment.

I wasn't getting at any particular situation; I was just picking out examples of amendments that would seem most likely to be repealed by a Democratic super majority. Obviously, many people would be rather displeased by these actions.
A Republican hyper-majority would be dangerous as well. The point is that once a party has too many seat across the country, it can do just about anything it wants.
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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Intercept » Thu Oct 30, 2008 2:12 am UTC

I don't think most of either party want to repeal any amendment.
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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby JoshuaZ » Thu Oct 30, 2008 9:14 pm UTC

Fat Tony wrote:Then, of course, there's the hyper-majority: when there are so many Democrats in office that there is nothing stopping them from taking away our second and tenth amendments.
Once there is a two-thirds majority in the House, a two-thirds majority in the Senate, and a 3/4 majority in 3/4 of the state legislatures, that party can do whatever they want.
Of course, this is based on my minimal knowledge of law and could be completely meaningless.


Um, first of all I'm not aware of anyone wanting to remove the 10th amendment. Considering that the 10th Amendment is used in part to justify privacy rights (the whole penumbra claim) the idea that the Democrats would want to get rid of it is a bit odd.

And while it is true that once one gets all of that together one can pass an amendment but doing so is incredibly difficult. Even if a party controls that much getting everyone to vote that way in their own party is very difficult. That's why the Constitution has been only amended 27 times. It is really difficult to do.

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Indon » Fri Oct 31, 2008 4:50 pm UTC

Fat Tony wrote:Then, of course, there's the hyper-majority: when there are so many Democrats in office that there is nothing stopping them from taking away our second and tenth amendments.
Once there is a two-thirds majority in the House, a two-thirds majority in the Senate, and a 3/4 majority in 3/4 of the state legislatures, that party can do whatever they want.
Of course, this is based on my minimal knowledge of law and could be completely meaningless.


I think your scenario is a little unlikely.

As defunct and outdated as the Republican party is, if they really can't even represent enough people to make a 25%+ presence in 13 states, then I imagine they'll get replaced pretty quickly as some event or another creates a competitive party (my bet would be the Libertarians, who, to me, feel like Republicans but without 30 years of outright corruption and not representing their constituents).

I don't even expect this supermajority to last. Even if the congress just pass everything they want, they'll hit a point where more moderate liberals stop cooperating and eventually there's an equilibrium again, just struck in a different place.
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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby AKAnotu » Wed Nov 05, 2008 4:38 am UTC

well, with the way CNN is calling it, it's impossible now. I'm going to put my money on 59 democrats in the senate.
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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Intercept » Wed Nov 05, 2008 4:45 am UTC

One of which who would be Lieberman, so meh.
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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Rysto » Wed Nov 05, 2008 3:48 pm UTC

AKAnotu wrote:well, with the way CNN is calling it, it's impossible now. I'm going to put my money on 59 democrats in the senate.

Looks like Alaska somehow re-elected Stevens, so it looks it's going to be 58. On the bright side, this completely neuters Lieberman.

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby mosc » Wed Nov 05, 2008 4:06 pm UTC

It will not be 58, it will be 56... WITH Lieberman. Georga, Minnesota, Alaska, and Oregon senate seats were all successfully defended by their republican incumbents.

The democrats will not have a "super majority". The last President who had a "super majority" was Jimmy Carter from 1976-1978. Before that you have to go back to LBJ in 1968. In other words, over the past 40 years, 95% of the time there has NOT been a super majority.
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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby korora » Wed Nov 05, 2008 7:10 pm UTC

Actually, Georgia's probably going to go to a runoff, since Chambliss didn't reach 50%. And apparently there are a bunch of absentee ballots yet to be counted in Alaska, plus he might have to step down anyways. And Minnesota's going to a recount since there's something like a 700-vote margin.
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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby Woxor » Wed Nov 05, 2008 7:11 pm UTC

mosc wrote:It will not be 58, it will be 56... WITH Lieberman. Georga, Minnesota, Alaska, and Oregon senate seats were all successfully defended by their republican incumbents.

Not sure how credible the source is, but it looks like some of that is still up in the air: http://www.allheadlinenews.com/articles/7012922402

But yeah, there's no supermajority.

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Re: U.S. Democratic Super Majority: Implications

Postby mosc » Wed Nov 05, 2008 7:32 pm UTC

Forgive me for jumping to conclusions a little. They're hardly democratic pickups either and that was the point I was trying to make.
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