By the way, another aspect of the Lieberman committee assignment fight that's being discussed in a less-than-accurate manner, I think, is the question of whether having 60 seats in the Senate under a Democratic banner that's been expanded enough to include Lieberman makes any kind of difference.
It's a central tenet of Ben Pershing's conclusion that Obama's comments on the-thing-not-actually-in-controversy were "the smartest move yet in his (short) stint as president-elect":
On a practical level, keeping Lieberman in the fold helps Obama's math problem, which is: 57 does not equal 60. Obama will need 60 votes in the Senate to accomplish any of his big priorities -- on taxes, health care and so on -- and alienating Lieberman would mean that he would be one vote shorter of that filibuster-proof majority. Holding on to Lieberman means having to woo one fewer Republican.
But as we've discussed before, cloture votes aren't often strict party line roll calls. Having 60 seats, in other words, is only a dependable tool in a tightly disciplined caucus. It's great to have lots of Democrats, no doubt. But the Senate isn't the kind of place where simply being able to count to 60 means you're going to get 60. It's not really built for that kind of operation in the first place, with the amount of power the rules give each individual Senator. Neither are Senators typically inclined to try and exercise that sort of tight control over their colleagues. While the bulk of the votes in any cloture roll call are usually fairly predictable by looking at party affiliation, it's the outcome we're concerned with, not the almost-outcome. Yes, getting as close to 60 seats as possible means Democrats minimize the number of Republicans (or whatever) they'd have to persuade in order to prevail. But if you start with the premise that there are persuadable votes out there based on the underlying issue and not solely on party affiliation, then the obsession with 60 becomes a little less important. And if you're also operating on the premise that Lieberman acts based on a stable set of political principles, then where he comes down vis-a-vis the 60 has little or nothing to do with what party affiliation he chooses for himself.
In other words, you're only actually concerned about Lieberman as part of the 60 if you believe he's a petulant prick who'll put his personality before the country and his constituents. And if you believe that, what the hell are you doing advocating keeping him in charge of anything at all, much less the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee?
It seems to me that since "57 does not equal 60" (and neither does 58), the question still swings on persuasion of people outside the caucus. And if that's a given, how much difference does it really make whether you're persuading Lieberman, or whether you're persuading Olympia Snowe?
One compromise I've seen bandied about is that we/they/someone ought to extract some kind of promise from Lieberman that he'll vote with us on cloture -- sight unseen, amazingly -- in exchange for keeping his committee gavel. But we're just now finishing up with a presidency that couldn't be forced to live up to obligations imposed on it by actual federal law. And this is an "administration" with which Lieberman actually agreed and openly aligned himself! So what makes anybody think that there's any possible promise that'd actually be enforceable? Who's going to arbitrate questions arising under this proposed agreement? Who'd be empowered to call Lieberman on it when he insists that thus and such a question is technically not covered, and even if it is, so what? Nobody. But who'll live with the consequences? Everybody.
None for me, thanks. Not interested.
No, we got sold on the 60 number under different circumstances, and really, nobody who ever threw out the old "can't do anything without 60 votes" line over the past two years never meant that all that was necessary was having 60 Senators call themselves Democrats. The line was always about 60 votes, not 60 seats. Because the Senators offering that line up knew way better than to say that.