Posts tagged Senate
A long-overlooked Senate committee could save the Republican agenda

Even with last week’s progress on tax reform, 2017 has not been a great year for Republicans in Congress.

Back in January, they had reason to expect things to turn out differently. After all, the GOP controlled Congress and the presidency for the first time in more than a decade. It was Republicans’ best opportunity to enact their legislative agenda since 2005.

But despite the 11 months that have transpired between then and now, they have yet to capitalize on that opportunity. Republicans’ failure to deliver on longstanding commitments, like repealing Obamacare and reducing government spending, has exposed deep divisions within the party over important policy areas. Even the Republicans’ effort to reform the tax code has proven to be harder than many initially expected.

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Age-old Senate rules might kill tax reform

This week’s rush by Republicans to pass tax reform reveals the limits of majority rule in the Senate.

Early in the year, Republicans decided to use the special budget process known as reconciliation to pass their tax bill in anticipation of Democratic obstruction. They did so because reconciliation bills cannot be filibustered. The support of a simple majority of senators is all that’s needed to overcome any effort to delay an up-or-down vote on final passage.

This feature of the reconciliation process is the most well-known, given the tendency common today to view Senate dysfunction solely through the lens of minority obstruction. From this perspective, reconciliation offers the majority party a way to pass its agenda over the objections of the minority party.

But this is a simplistic view of the legislative dynamics inherent in reconciliation. It overlooks other features of the process that complicate the majority’s efforts to pass tax reform and exacerbate the Senate’s underlying problems.

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Trump can't predict the future of the filibuster

Last week, President Trump called on Senate Republicans to nuke the filibuster, predicting the chamber's Democrats would not hesitate to do so in the future if their roles were reversed.

While Trump's assertion was intended to goad Republicans into action, it is based on speculation and should thus be viewed with skepticism. Just like in the real world, accurately predicting what will happen in some theoretical future Senate isn't that easy.

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How Senate Leaders Can Use Existing Rules To End Democrat Stonewalling

Democrats have threatened to filibuster Republican efforts to debate important legislation on the Senate floor. But this is nothing new. The filibuster has been used in the past to frustrate both Democratic and Republican majorities. It has prevented both liberal and conservative policies from passing. This has made it the bane of Senate majorities, their co-partisans in the House of Representatives, and the president.

Consequently, senators have proposed various reforms over the years to clamp down on the minority’s ability to delay the legislative process. Most recently, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., called for changing the Senate’s rules to make it easier to start debate on the floor. He would do so by making the motion to proceed to legislation non-debatable (i.e., not subject to a filibuster).

But Lankford’s proposal is unnecessary. The Senate’s current rules already give majorities the power to end needless delays. And using those rules to clamp down on minority obstruction will be of greater benefit to Republicans than eliminating the filibuster, which would have long-term repercussions for the institution more generally.

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What the budget process can tell us about the state of the Senate

Congress is running out of time to fund the federal government for the upcoming fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

In July, the House of Representatives passed four appropriations bills bundled together in a so-called minibus. But senators chose to leave town for their August recess rather than take up that spending package.

And there won’t be much time to do so when they return in September. The Senate is currently scheduled to be in session for only 17 days next month. The House and Senate will be on the job at the same time for only 12 of those days.

That doesn’t leave a lot of time for the Senate to take up and debate the House-passed minibus, much less the other eight appropriation bills that have yet to be considered by the full House or Senate. A short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open while Congress finishes its work appears inevitable.

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Senatorial Scrums Make Members into Rubber Stamps

Look behind every major legislative success the U.S. Senate has had in recent years and you will find a small group of senators who negotiated quietly in private. Working under the supervision of party leaders, these groups are tasked by the collective, explicitly or implicitly, with resolving difficult issues, writing legislation, and helping to structure the process by which the Senate considers important bills.

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Under reconciliation, it'll be harder than you think to amend the Senate healthcare bill

Changing a reconciliation bill in the Senate is harder than you think. And the reason why has nothing to do with healthcare policy.

While senators are correct to note they have a "virtually unlimited opportunity" to offer amendments to reconciliation bills, the special rules governing that process make it less likely that alternative proposals will receive serious consideration on the floor. Given this, senators should not be quick to assume that beginning debate on the healthcare bill this week will lead to a different outcome if their amendments are not allowed to be debated openly and do not receive up-or-down votes on the merits. Ensuring this requires senators to know exactly what it is that they are amending.

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