Democrats have a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate, meaning they should be able to push through the Democratic agenda without interference from an irrelevant Republican minority. Except that it's the Democrats we're talking about, and there's always an excuse why they can't do the right thing.
Now it's that they really only have 58 votes.
You see, Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd are too sick to show up! Both have been wheeled in for key votes in recent months, and one thinks the same could be done for key health care votes, but they have become the newest excuse for Democratic impotence in the Senate.
It's unfortunate. Neither man (and especially Kennedy) deserves to see their legacy tarnished by becoming an excuse for the failure of a robust health care plan. Democrats need to either admit that the problem lies elsewhere (the Nelsons of the party), or gently ask that Kennedy and Byrd cede their seats to new senators who can help finish the fight for Kennedy's lifelong crusade.
Byrd's replacement would be appointed by West Virginia's Democratic governor, hence no vacancy would exist. Massachusetts is a bit more complicated -- the seat would remain vacant for six months pending a special election. That process was established by the Democratic legislature in 2004, afraid that the state's then-Republican governor would appoint a Republican to fill a Senate seat vacated by President John Kerry (sigh). Clearly, having that vacancy now would hurt, putting Democrats at 59 seats, shy of the magical 60, but that's what supposedly the apologists claim is currently the case anyway.
And there's another solution -- just like the Massachusetts legislature changed the process in 2004, they can change it again. They could adopt the Texas model, which is the best I've seen -- the governor would appoint an interim senator, while a quick special election would ultimately fill the seat. The Texas model offers the best balance between ensuring a state is fully represented in the Senate, while the voters get to quickly make the ultimate call.
I realize the sensitivity of this matter, but millions of people's lives will be impacted by the final form of this health care legislation. We need to be at full strength in the Senate to get the best possible outcome. Yet the cynic in me suspects this has nothing to do with Byrd and Kennedy, rather than Harry Reid's incessant need for handy excuses for his leadership failures.
He doesn't want a true 60-seat majority, lest he be held accountable for the failures of his caucus to deliver to voters what they, and the party, promised the last two elections.