What’s the reach of a tiny ‘Mod Squad’?

WHAT’S THE REACH OF A TINY ‘MOD SQUAD’?…. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who is arguably one of only a handful of moderate Republicans in Washington, told a local columnist something interesting the other day.

The day after the election, Collins told me she had received a post-election telephone call from Mark Kirk, the Illinois Republican elected to fill the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.

“I can’t wait to join your Mod Squad,” Kirk told her.

“Mod,” obviously, stands for “moderate” in this context. Kirk no doubt realizes there’s a very small contingent of centrist Republicans, so he very likely called Collins to let her know he intends to be part of her tiny faction.

For what it’s worth, I’m inclined to believe him. It’s a relative measurement in the 21st century, given the Republican Party’s shift to the far-right, but Kirk was generally one of the less-right-wing members of the House Republican caucus. Even this year, during the Senate campaign, the biggest knock on Kirk was that he seemed to lie uncontrollably about his own background and experiences, not that he was an Illinois version of Jim DeMint.

Those of us who consider Senate head-counts, wondering which Republicans, if any, might be willing to break ranks on a key vote, tend to start and finish with Collins and Olympia Snowe. Should Kirk be considered in the same category going forward? Probably.

The question is whether any of this will matter.

Next year, we’ll see a 53-47 Senate, with a Democratic majority. If recent history continues, the Republican minority will filibuster literally every measure of any significance, mandating 60 votes to on practically everything. The “Mod Squad” will no doubt be the target of Democratic outreach, but on its best day, we’re talking about maybe four members: Snowe, Collins, Kirk, and depending on how confused he is on any given day, occasionally Scott Brown.

If all four vote with Dems on the big issues, and Dems somehow manage to stick together, they’re still a few votes shy of passing worthwhile legislation.

What’s more, half the “Mod Squad” is up for re-election in 2012 — Snowe in Maine and Brown in Massachusetts. Both may face primary challengers — with Snowe, it’s a near certainty — putting increased pressure on both not to cooperate with Democrats on anything.

And there’s the matter that the House is so far to the right, and Republicans will have such a large majority, that getting the “Mod Squad” on board in the Senate probably won’t make a difference. Over the last couple of years, if Democrats wanted to govern, they had to negotiate with Snowe and Collins. Next year will bring a new dynamic — the White House will have to call Boehner and Cantor. If a bill the White House can tolerate can get through a conservative Republican House, the assumption is that getting bipartisan Senate support for the measure shouldn’t be too difficult.

I’m sure the “Mod Squad” will be well intentioned, but I’m hard pressed to imagine it having much of an impact.