The significance of 60 (or lack thereof)

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF 60 (OR LACK THEREOF)…. Jeff Merkley’s win in Oregon brought the Democratic caucus in the Senate to 57 seats. Things look pretty good for Democrats in Alaska, and Begich would make 58. The recount in Minnesota offers the party some hope, and Franken would make 59. Georgia’s recount is unpredictable, and Martin would make 60. The number, of course, has some significance.

In a strange turn of events, the Democrats’ pursuit of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate — left for dead after last week’s election results — is now back on course.

The road to 60 seats will now go through an Anchorage election office, the Minnesota state courts, a runoff in Georgia next month and, ultimately, a tense caucus meeting next week in which Democrats must deal with a renegade lawmaker who is making noise about crossing the aisle to join Republicans.

“Let me beat you to the punch: Will we get 60 seats?” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, cutting off reporters yesterday before they could ask the question everyone wants answered. “It’s possible, but unlikely.”

Whether the caucus has 57 seats, 60, or somewhere in between, matters — every vote counts, and Republican obstructionist tactics are a given — but now’s probably a good time to reemphasize that 60 is not exactly a Holy Grail here.

Every vote on major initiatives brings it own challenges, and there’s never a guarantee that everyone in the Democratic caucus will vote together — Lieberman is, after all, part of the caucus. For that matter, there’s no reason to believe that every Republican is necessarily going to back their party on cloture votes.

In fact, the real fun of the next Congress will be how center-right Republicans from “blue” states — Snowe, Collins, Voinovich, and Specter, I’m looking in your direction — respond to popular policy proposals launched by a popular Democratic president.

A 60-seat majority would be a milestone for the party, but it’s hardly a green light to problem-free governing. Something to keep in mind.