When voters hand you lemons…

WHEN VOTERS HAND YOU LEMONS…. For all the talk about the Democratic caucus’s 60-vote supermajority, it’s easy to forget that this “magical” number didn’t exist a year ago.

When President Obama was inaugurated one year ago today, there were 58 Senate Dems and 257 House Dems. The moment Scott Brown is sworn in, there will be 59 Senate Dems and 256 House Dems (Wexler’s Democratic seat in Florida is vacant). Democrats, in other words, are slightly better off now than a year ago.

By the summer, Congress, with “only” 58 Senate Dems, had passed a recovery package that rescued the economy from a depression, the most progressive budget bill in a generation, a national service bill, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, new regulations of the credit card industry, and new regulations of the tobacco industry.

Governing, in other words, is still possible.

New DSCC talking points note, “It is mathematically impossible for Democrats to pass legislation on our own.” As a technical matter, sure, I suppose that’s true. If literally every Republican refuses to consider literally every bill, then the legislative process will produce nothing this year. And while the talking point conveys a certain weakness — Greg Sargent asks, “Can you imagine Republicans in the majority ever saying such a thing?” — there’s certainly a possibility that the GOP will simply not let the Senate function in 2010.

But if the congressional makeup gave Dems a chance a year ago, it gives Dems a chance now. They can use Scott Brown’s win as an excuse to walk away from the party’s commitments, but that would clearly be a tragic mistake. As Ezra Klein put it:

So they lost their 60th seat in the Senate. Bummer. But … Democrats are left with the second-largest Senate majority either party has enjoyed in 30 years. They have a 40-vote margin in the House. The filibuster is a problem, to be sure, but the Senate has already passed the health-care bill and the House could simply ratify that legislation and send it off to the president. […]

For Democrats to sacrifice their most important legislative priority on the altar of Martha Coakley’s underperformance in Massachusetts is so absurd even the [Monty] Python crew wouldn’t believe it.

When there were 58 Senate Dems and 257 House Dems, everyone agreed that health care reform was at least possible, and likely enough to pass that it was worth pursuing.

Now the Dems’ congressional majority is a little bigger. It just takes a little courage to resist the urge to run away.