The Republicans Are Tying Their Own Hands, But Why?

Thus far, Republican’s in Congress have been unwilling to remove the Senate filibuster in order to help advance their legislative agenda. Despite swiftly removing the filibuster for nominations in order to push through Trump’s Supreme Court nomination, Neil Gorsuch, and calls from Trump to use the ‘nuclear option’.

As Matt Yglesias pointed out in the latest episode of the Weeds from Vox.com, the Republican’s in Congress are not attempting to push forward their own cause, not in a substantial way. Having spent seven years campaigning on repeal and replace they have proved themselves to be almost incapable of building a party consensus on both what that means and how they should proceed with health care reform. Several different iterations of ‘Obamacare repeal’ have failed to make it to a vote, or have been voted down, and the Republicans have seemingly moved on to tax reform. McConnell commented after the latest failed repeal bill that, “Where we go from here is tax reform”. He did however, tell reporters after a closed-door lunch in which the GOP decided not to hold the lastest vote,

“We haven’t given up on changing the American health care system. We aren’t going to be able to do it this week.”

To truly move forward they have two options, they can attempt to gain consensus across their entire party, and pass legislation based on trying to use budget reconciliation. But that is an extremely complex measure through which they are trying to force through legislation that was simply not designed to go through budget reconciliation. Additionally, building cross-party consensus is difficult, especially in a party with so many different wings, under a President whose stated goals on health care during the campaign seem totally at odds with Congressional Republicans and every piece of legislation that has been brought forward. Trump however, has shown willingness to back almost any piece of legislation to ‘get a win’. Despite their small majority and divided party, Republicans keep pushing forwards with reconciliation to attempt to pass health care (and potentially tax reform as well now).

The reason they are choosing to use reconciliation to pass legislation is because of the filibuster. They could remove the filibuster, yet they haven’t. This could be for several potential reasons:

  1. They have an inherent fear of shifting demographics and what the Democrats could do once they regain control of Congress at some point in the future. When in the minority, Republicans can use it to restrict the legislative agenda – much like they did during Obama’s presidency and as the Democrats are doing now to hold up the Republican agenda (although arguably the Democrats haven’t had to work too hard to derail the Republican legislative process).
  2. They have a desire to keep it in place for Senate traditions, as it forces bi-partisan cooperation — this idea is based on the fact that the US system of governing is designed to build consensus and make it difficult to rapidly change federal policy.
  3. They don’t really want to pass Healthcare legislation- at least not badly enough to remove the filibuster.

The Republican’s were more than happy to remove the filibuster for Senate confirmations in order to force through the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, so why won’t they use it here?

The alternative solution is to attempt to work past the filibuster and bring Democrats on board for some form of bi-partisan bill. But they have completely disregarded the idea and seem intent on tying their own hands through budget reconciliation.

There are several theories as to why this may be happening:

  1. They have been forced into attempting repeal and replace, but with no solid plan or idea as to how to deliver the type of coverage that they have repeatedly promised, or to fix the problems that they have highlighted with the ACA, they have to push forward with a bill that would never pass to give the impression that they have tried — McConnell has admitted that they are giving up for now on Healthcare reform after several failed attempts, though there are whispers that they will come back to it. This does leave questions as to why the tax cuts and spending cuts that were proposed were written into the budget proposals, this could be yet more showmanship, but it could also be an incentive for themselves to reach cross-party consensus on health care.
  2. The endless and ongoing Healthcare saga is a means with which to occupy news and activists whilst they push on with other parts of their agenda in other government departments such as the Department of Education, the EPA, and the FCC.
  3. The need to constantly fight for basic healthcare rights takes the picture away from pushing for minimum wage reform, or immigration reform, or any form of progressive or forward-thinking legislation.

Trump has declared his desire to now dismantle Obamacare through executive order, so have Republicans accepted that this is the only path? Why won’t they either remove the filibuster or work on bipartisan legislation? Perhaps the potential for obstruction is a key part of their strategy when they are not in power, but it doesn’t really solve the problems they are having with legislating right now.

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