Dems won't need 60 seats in Senate

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In the unlikely event that Democrats reached 60, what would it mean? To be sure, a cloture-sized majority would make a difference on some party-line questions that tend to get bogged down for partisan rather than ideological reasons—for example, voting rights for D.C. Prolonged confirmation battles, already infrequent, would become even more so.
But reaching 60 seats won't suspend the laws of political gravity for Senate Democrats, nor will keeping Democrats in the 50s do much to ease Senate Republicans' pain. Here's why:

On tough votes, the real magic number is 50. To get around the 60-vote hurdle, the Senate long ago established the budget reconciliation process, a fast-track procedure that cannot be filibustered and requires a simple majority. Not every matter is germane under reconciliation, but the questions with the greatest fiscal consequence are.

On the most contentious economic debates of the past two decades, the pass-fail line has been 50, not 60. In 1993, Vice President Al Gore cast the deciding vote to squeak Bill Clinton's pivotal economic package through the Senate, 51-50. Senate Republicans used reconciliation to pass the Bush tax cuts.

For an Obama administration, the real benefit of getting to 60 is that on tough economic votes, it would be that much easier to get to 50. Even with 57 Senate Democrats in 1993, it took all of Clinton's powers of persuasion and a last-minute plea to then-Sen. Bob Kerrey to pass his economic plan by a single vote.

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