Probably true, although mostly not for the reason that Donald Trump stated in today’s morning tweetstorm. After watching the ObamaCare repeal effort — such as it was — go down to defeat in the Senate yesterday, the president vented his spleen at Mitch McConnell over the filibuster. “Go to 51 votes NOW and WIN,” Trump urged, just one day after the Senate Majority Leader couldn’t quite make it to 50:
Budget reconciliation refers to two major agenda items — ObamaCare repeal and tax reform. While the former flopped, the latter seems to be on pace for more success. Republican factions all support tax reform in both the corporate and individual codes, while still not quite firm on the details. Depending on how tax reform gets structured, there is clearly more opportunity to appeal to moderate Democrats than there ever was on repealing ObamaCare, which had always been a bright line for Democrats. But those can already pass with 51 votes, and Republicans have 52. The problem they’ve had isn’t the budget reconciliation process. What’s “killing R’s in Senate” is the GOP, which has been unable to unify so far on ObamaCare. Eliminating the filibuster rule wouldn’t have made much difference except to allow for a total repeal, which would have probably gotten no more than the 43 votes it got in the amendment vote-a-rama this week.
Trump has a somewhat better argument on non-reconciliation bills:
Actually, eight Democrats didn’t “totally control” it this week. Republicans could have passed the slimy shell bill of “skinny repeal” on their own, and Democrats couldn’t have done anything about it. Democrats also couldn’t do anything except slow down confirmations of Trump’s appointees, and the slowdowns have nothing to do with the filibuster. Trump still argues that the filibuster is dead anyway — it’s a question of timing and benefits:
That argument gets made frequently, but Democrats did have that option from 2007 to 2014 and never quite pulled the trigger, even when Barack Obama grew frustrated with what he called Republican obstructionism. Harry Reid took the nuclear option only so far, limiting his filibuster reform to presidential appointments. That maneuver backfired spectacularly on Democrats this year when they couldn’t stop any of Trump’s political appointments except Andy Puzder, and then only because he lost some Republican support for Labor Secretary.
Democrats should have learned a lesson from that experience, but Republicans certainly did. Sixty-one Senators signed a letter pledging to vote against any rule change on the legislative filibuster earlier this year, split just about evenly between the parties. It’s a non-starter even if McConnell was in favor of the idea, and McConnell has repeatedly told Trump that the legislative filibuster is not up for debate. Given its non-sequitur status to what took place this week, don’t look for it to come up again.
Mike Huckabee had a different solution for what plagued the Senate this week. Echoing a long-standing item on the conservative wish list, Huckabee called for the repeal of the 17th Amendment requiring direct elections of Senators:
Time to repeal 17th Amendment. Founders had it right-Senators chosen by state legislatures. Will work for their states and respect 10th amid
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) July 28, 2017
This is a better idea than eliminating the filibuster for several reasons, the best of which acts against Huckabee’s argument, at least in terms of ObamaCare. The original Constitution envisioned the Senate as a legislative chamber oriented to the interests of the states, while the House would be oriented to the interests of the people. When states chose Senators through state legislatures, that incentive remained in place, but the 17th Amendment changed the constituencies from state-oriented to popular. Federalism would be much better served by a return to the original design, as states would have a much more effective platform from which to defend their sovereignty and prerogatives.
Unfortunately for Huckabee and this situation, the states had even more incentive to keep ObamaCare than the popular electorate. A repeal would have dried up additional Medicaid funding for the expansion population, which would have forced the states to either get more efficient at managing it or to reverse the expansion — neither of which would have been popular. Thirty-one states adopted the expansion (as did Washington DC, which has no vote in Congress), including a number of Republican-majority states. The governors in those states have been actively lobbying against repeal if it includes Medicaid reforms or a full repeal of the expansion. A 17th-Amendment Senate might not have had 40 votes for repeal in any form, let alone the 49 that McConnell managed to rustle up yesterday morning. The best that can be said for Huckabee’s proposal in this context is that a 17th-Amendment Senate might not have passed ObamaCare in the first place.
The failure of ObamaCare repeal this week isn’t due to the 17th Amendment or the filibuster. The window for a full repeal closed in the 2012 election, when Republicans failed to win the White House and stop ObamaCare before it rolled out. The world has changed, and Republicans have to work harder and smarter to pursue free-market reforms in a much more hostile environment. There are no shortcuts left any more.