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Will Bernanke Need Only 50 Votes?

Open Left and the Campaign for America’s Future have launched a whip count for Ben Bernanke’s confirmation, and they count 40 votes in support of Bernanke thus far. The Wall Street Journal similarly has 40 in favor, 17 opposed and the rest undecided. They may need to recalibrate their whip counts, however. Because apparently, procedural votes and final votes are separate in Bernanke’s case in a way that they were not for practically everything else in the Senate.

When it comes to progressive priorities in the Senate, there’s one standard: 60 votes are needed. But for Ben Bernanke, there’s a second standard: 50 will be just fine, thank you.

Democratic leaders in the Senate are asking colleagues who are reluctant to support Bernanke’s nomination for a second term as Federal Reserve chairman to nevertheless vote with them to end a filibuster and allow a vote on the actual nomination. The reluctant members would then be free to vote no to express their displeasure. Several Democrats have committed to just that and others are considering it.

The public health insurance option was stripped from health care reform because it didn’t have 60 votes. An expansion of Medicare took its place but it, too, was dropped for having fewer than 60. Both proposals had at least 50 votes. Dawn Johnsen, a nominee to head the Office of Legal Counsel, has the backing of progressive organizations, but a 60-vote threshold has held her up for a year.

This is seriously unbelievable. Democrats are willing to hold together on procedural votes, but only selectively. The Senate is fundamentally broken except when it isn’t. Everything needs 60 votes except when it doesn’t.

Jim Bunning is still holding out the idea that Bernanke’s confirmation vote will not happen until next week, meaning that his term would expire, but if cloture and passage are separate – only in this one case – I’d guess they can roll with a final vote whenever they want. The timing to clear cloture and wait for the motion to ripen, however, could push Bernanke temporarily off of the perch of Federal Reserve chair.

…to be clear, I favor majority rule, just not SELECTIVE majority rule.

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David Dayen

David Dayen