Just four months ago, angry and energized voters swarmed to the polls to give Republicans control of the Senate and increase their House of Representatives majority. Mr. Obama and his minions claimed that the voters wanted Republicans to work across the aisle to “get things done” in Washington. But GOP pols believed they had received a mandate to reverse Obamacare and block Mr. Obama’s executive orders giving amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. Getting the Keystone XL pipeline unstuck from “review” was also high on the GOP’s list.
In effect, voters had demanded that Republicans perform a legislative “miracle,” since the GOP still lacked a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, as well as the presidency. Nevertheless, both House and Senate went dutifully to work to meet voters’ expectations. First out of the gate was a bill to approve Keystone. This seemed a no-brainer, since polls consistently show that two-thirds of the country’s voters want the pipeline built. It passed both houses handily, but the president – deaf to howls of protest from his one-time labor-union allies – struck it down with an immediate veto. Since Republicans lacked the votes to override, Keystone was kaput. Gloom fell over the GOP Camp. The fond hopes of November had been dashed by the political reality of our Great Unifier’s implacable opposition to any Republican initiatives that could energize the economy. (Mr. Obama already believes the economy is “roaring,” so he sees no need to prime the pump.)
Next on the GOP agenda was an attempt to defund the Homeland Security arm tasked to carry out the president’s executive order to “normalize” some 5 million illegal immigrants. These were the so-called “Dreamers,” who were brought into the USA as children. The House quickly passed DHS-funding for the fiscal year, omitting funds for legalizing the Dreamers with work-permits and driver-licenses. Mr. Obama threatens to veto it, but so far he hasn’t had to. Democrats have stopped a similar Senate bill by filibustering it. The GOP lacks the 60 votes needed for cloture, so the bill is stuck. Republican leaders say it’s hopeless. Again, conservatives are frustrated by the lack of progress. It is truly our Winter of Discontent.
From where I’m standing, though, it doesn’t look quite as hopeless as all that. I believe the GOP’s action-model should be what the 2010 Democratic Congress did when the Affordable Health Care Act was on the line. The Democrat-controlled House had already passed a bill in the desired form, but the Senate could not do the same, since Edward Kennedy’s death and Scott Brown’s election had cost Democrats their filibuster-proof majority of 60 votes.
The tactic used by Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid to get the bill past the Republicans was simple and ingenious. Knowing that a GOP filibuster would keep him from passing a separate Senate version of the bill, he used his authority as Senate Leader to adopt the House bill as the Senate’s own. His senators amended it, and the two bills then entered a Congressional process called “reconciliation,” which Democrats could control because they controlled both Houses. Most importantly, Senate cloture rules did not apply to the reconciled bill. Thus exempt from a Republicans filibuster, it cruised through the Senate. Approval by the House quickly followed, and voila! The problem was solved by true legislative experts.
The situation with the Homeland Security funding bill looks exactly the same (as it seems to me). The House has passed a bill, but the Senate can’t do likewise because Democrats will filibuster any bill the GOP brings forward. Republicans lack the votes for cloture. Obviously, then, Mr. Reid’s tactic of “adopting” the House bill and placing it under filibuster-proof reconciliation is the very tool Republicans need to put their desired legislation on Mr. Obama’s desk.
Up until now, Senator McConnell has hung back from this tactic. I cannot tell if he thinks it unseemly or ungentlemanly – or if he hopes no one will recall how Democrats used it to ram the AHCA through. If he’s pinning his hopes on widespread amnesia, he is probably finding that some Republican memories are longer than he expected. The reconciliation solution is evidently being whispered about in the Senate, for today a report came out that General Harry Reid has already ordered his troops to boycott any reconciliation conference dealing with a DHS-funding bill that omits funds for the president’s amnesty plan. Senate rules say reconciliation cannot proceed if both parties do not attend. Thus, the wily Democrats seem to have played another trump card, and Big Media has pronounced the reconciliation tactic “dead”– or so it appears.
Not so fast, though. (“Just a damned minute!” as John Wayne would say.) Are both parties in the Senate not obligated (under the rules!) to send members to reconciliation? If they don’t, what is the consequence? Wouldn’t a failure to obey the rules be an ethical violation? Can you disobey the rules on one hand, and then demand that the rules be followed by the other guy? (To borrow Casey Stengel’s famous shout, “Doesn’t anybody here know how to play this game?!!”
Such an action by the Democrats would surely justify a rule-change by the majority party. The correction would let one party move ahead, unilaterally, on reconciliation if the other party refuses to staff the proceedings. A schoolchild could tell you that a rogue action by either party cannot be allowed to block the Senate’s lawful deliberations.
Republicans should be able to see this – true? Or is a darker purpose at work? Could some Republican senators be using Democrats’ dirty tricks as cover because they don’t want to embarrass Mr. Obama or stop his amnesty-move? I don’t know. But like the dog that didn’t bark in the night, the GOP’s reluctance to use the reconciliation tactic does seem “curious.”
These are dangerous days for Republicans. My counsel would be that they follow through on their campaign promises, using every legislative tool at their disposal. If they do less than this, they will lose their constituents’ trust – a result that could have far more serious consequences than the outcome of this small skirmish with a lawless president.