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Am I The Only One?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Making Sense of Senate Majority Math

Like most of the world, I've been watching the coverage of the U.S. Senate races with fascination. And I suspect I'm not the only one who's a little puzzled by the talk of the Democrats taking control of the senate.

Let's take a look at CNN, a pro-Democrat news company. Their front page a few minutes ago looks like this:

Does that graphic showing the number of Democratic, Republican, and Independant senators in the lower-left look odd? Let's take a closer look:

So CNN thinks that the Democrats have 49? This will come as a surprise to Senators Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders, who both won as Independents. Without these two, the Democrats only have 47.

The assumption is that Lieberman and Sanders will vote with the Democrats, though that will not be true on issues of the Iraq war (which Lieberman supports), and possibly not true on other issues for Sanders. Regardless, CNN has a yellow bar for "Independents", with a zero beside it. If you're going to count the I's as D's, why show the third progress bar?

Now if you click on one of the articles, CNN gives you a different graphic:

Here they still show the two Independents as Democrats, but at least the Democrat thermometer is noticeably shorter. Are they starting to get it?

This distinction becomes important in deciding the Senate Majority Leader; the Democrats need 51 to control the senate in order to overcome Cheney's tie-breaking vote, and even if the races in Montana and Virgina go the Democrat's way, it's still 49-49-2 -- 2 short of the required 51. According to Senate rules:

"Elected at the beginning of each Congress by members of their respective party conferences to represent them on the Senate floor, the majority and minority leaders serve as spokesmen for their parties' positions on the issues." Source: Senate.gov

If only members of the "majority party" -- which Lieberman and Sanders are not -- can vote for a majority leader, then I can't see any way that the Democrats can elect one. Any thoughts?


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