An Accidental Moment Of Candor From Judd Gregg: With Franken Tied Up, ‘We Can Do A Lot With 40 Votes’

May 12, 2009 8:25 a.m.

A Congressional Quarterly article about GOP efforts to get conservative Democrats to oppose major legislation contains an interesting admission from Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH).

Acording to the piece, Republicans “have vowed to block, reshape or defeat a number of Democratic initiatives in coming months, even though Specter’s defection has left the Senate Republican caucus with just 40 members.”

But in a 99-member Senate, 40 votes are enough to keep Democrats from cutting off debate on major legislation. “Usually you need 41 votes to get anything done around here. But right now, you can do a lot with 40 votes,” said Judd Gregg

In a 99-seat Senate, 40 votes isn’t nearly enough to “get anything done.” Not at all. It is rather the bare minimum necessary to make sure nothing gets done. And it explains why so many Republican senators will routinely vote against cloture on major Democratic agenda items. It’s called a filibuster–and it isn’t typically thought of as way to “get stuff done.”You’ll seldom hear Republicans admit that this is their legislative strategy–even though it manifestly is their legislative strategy–but sometimes obvious and uncomfortable truths are hard to deny, and slip out accidentally. And it’s an important truth.

This strategy is crucial to understanding the GOP’s gambit in the Minnesota Senate race. When that issue is decided, the Senate will have 100 members, and if Franken is declared the winner (as is widely expected) the Republicans’ 40 votes will no longer be enough on their own to mount a filibuster.

For his part–in the weeks since he decided not to join the Democratic administration and chose instead to lead Republican opposition to the President’s budget–Gregg has become one of the filibuster’s strongest proponents.

He compared efforts to circumvent the filibuster to mob tactics, despite the fact that he used those same tactics when Republicans were trying to advance the Bush agenda. It’s a sort of…flexible philosophy. One has to imagine, though, that if he’d gone through the nomination process to become Commerce Secretary, and 40 senators had filibustered his confirmation, he’d have had a suspiciously different take on minority obstruction.

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