WASHINGTON, July 2 (UPI) -- Minnesota's Al Franken to the U.S. Senate's Democratic fold may give the party a supermajority, but using that leverage may remain difficult, lawmakers say
The absence of two Democrats because of illnesses, senators' ideologies and some members' willingness to break ranks won't make advancing contentious legislation easier, The New York Times reported Thursday.
"We have 60 votes on paper," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada told the Times. "But we cannot bulldoze anybody; it doesn't work that way. My caucus doesn't allow it. And we have a very
diverse group of senators philosophically. I am not this morning suddenly flexing my muscles."
Becoming the first party in 30 years to reach 60 votes -- the number of votes required to cut off debate on a bill -- could create political headaches for Democrats as they consider legislation such as reforms in energy or healthcare, the Times said.
"The American people are going to say, 'Look, we have given you the authority to make changes on healthcare, go ahead and do it,'" said Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats. "No more excuses."
Sanders has called for Democrats to agree to unite to overcome Republican obstacles when considering any healthcare reform bill, even if they decide later to oppose the measure when it is subject to a simple majority vote, the Times said. But occasional breakaway lawmakers such as Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska said they won't vote the party line just because they're asked.
"I am not about to surrender any of my votes on the basis that there are now 60 members of my caucus," Nelson told the Times. "I don't think we will walk in lockstep. It will be issue by issue."