On Thursday, the House of Representatives, by the narrowest margin, passed the American Health Care Act. The AHCA, as it is known, is not the full repeal of Obamacare that President Trump and the Republicans promised. It isn’t even that much of a repeal and replace.
The Republican base that has been promised repeal of the much-hated Obamacare law for seven years is furious about this.
Republicans hate Obamacare. Real Americans hate Obamacare. Obamacare has been nothing less than an abject failure. So why isn’t it being repealed completely?
There is one simple answer. It is the filibuster.
The Democrats have lost the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, but they can still call the shots because of the archaic rule in the Senate known as the filibuster.
The filibuster is not part of the U.S. Constitution. It is a rule that was created in 1917, ironically to end debate and allow bills to move forward. Prior to 1917, Senators could talk as long as they wanted to about a bill. The rule, known as “cloture” or literally to close the debate. Since 1975, Senators have not even had to get up and talk. All they have to do is put a “hold” on legislation or an appointment.
Cloture has turned from a mechanism to speed up debate and the resolution of a bill to a mechanism to totally stop any legislation. Instead of needing a simple majority, now most bills need a sixty-vote supermajority to pass.
The obvious question would be, why doesn’t Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell change the rules to eliminate the filibuster? He did, once. He removed the rule so that Neil Gorsuch could be confirmed to the Supreme Court. So why doesn’t he do it now? Why aren’t the Republicans screaming to remove the filibuster?
There is a dirty secret in Washington. There are a lot of Senators on both sides who don’t want to see the filibuster removed. The reason is very simple. With the filibuster in place, they don’t have to take controversial votes. They don’t have to take votes that might anger their base and create a primary challenger against them.
All these Senators, particularly the squishy moderate Republicans, have to do say about anything controversial is, “The Democrats filibustered the bill and there was nothing we could do.” There are a lot of Republicans who don’t want to see Obamacare repealed. A lot of them don’t want to see government spending cut or taxes cut. And they have the perfect excuse as long as the filibuster is intact.
The Republicans had better learn a lesson here and do it quickly. The Republicans have moved into a position of tremendous opportunity but also tremendous danger. The GOP now controls the House, the Senate and the White House.
The base is not in the mood for excuses.
The fault may be that the GOP raised expectations too high when they campaigned but the cold, hard truth is the base is expecting results and is not in a forgiving mood.
Conservatives point out, rightly, that the Constitution does not require a filibuster. The writers of the Constitution and the states that ratified it, could have included it in the document. There are several places where the Constitution specifically requires a super-majority. These include treaty ratification and the removal of a federal office holder from office as the result of an impeachment.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell showed his willingness to take the filibuster out, the so-called nuclear option, when it was necessary to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. If Leader McConnell fails to use the nuclear option now, to advance the conservative agenda, President Trump and the GOP will fail.
If the Republicans use the filibuster as an excuse not to fully repeal Obamacare, build the wall, cut the size of government or cut taxes, the base will nether forgive nor forget.
And if that happens, the voters will take their frustrations out on the Republican Party in 2020.