Kill the Filibuster Before It’s Too Late
The greatest obstacle blocking Republicans from fulfilling our agenda is not manufactured outrage about Russians. It’s the Senate filibuster, the 60-vote threshold to suspend debate that prevents most bills from making it to the floor.
For years, my fellow Arizonan Rep. Trent Franks has condemned the 60-vote rule, arguing that it stops too many bills already passed by the House from becoming law. President Trump has now joined the chorus of filibuster critics as he watches his agenda languish. Republicans should consign the 60-vote rule to history—or risk throwing away their agenda along with their congressional majority.
The filibuster forces the majority into awkward legislative maneuvers. Take the GOP’s plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare through the Senate’s reconciliation process. The way it works is that once a budget is passed, a follow-up bill gets one chance to be reconciled in the Senate with only 51 votes. So first the House had to pass a faux budget, to make reconciliation available. Then House leaders tried to stuff as much ObamaCare replacement in one bill as they thought Senate rules would allow. The result of these wild procedural manipulations was a legislative train wreck that—at least temporarily—has halted progress toward the central Republican goal.
But that’s only the beginning of what the filibuster thwarts. The House has already passed more than 200 bills this year, including legislation to repeal Dodd-Frank and strengthen immigration enforcement. All that legislation is parked in the Senate because even getting a vote effectively requires 60 ayes. The only conclusion is that the Senate is controlled by the minority party. Eight Democrats trump the Republican majority.
Another downside is that the filibuster rule shields senators from the responsibility of taking hard votes. They can play both sides of an issue by claiming to support a bill they know will never meet the 60-vote threshold. The filibustering senators get to bask in the glory of success without any risk, since they can squash the legislation without having to vote against it.
The reason Republican senators don’t want to eliminate the filibuster is they fear that they will one day return to the minority. Additionally, there is an ostensible “gentlemen’s agreement” that says neither party will use its majority to repeal the 60-vote rule. But Democrats and Republicans alike have skirted that agreement when they thought it was necessary.
In 2013 Democrats dispensed with the filibuster for most nominations. Republicans did the same earlier this year when they confirmed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Now Republicans should finish the job and repeal the 60-vote rule for legislation. If they don’t, they can be sure Democrats will seize the opportunity to do so when they return to power.
The torments of the ObamaCare repeal process can be ultimately traced to the filibuster. That the “skinny repeal” bill, which needed only a simple majority, also failed does not change the fact that Republicans wasted months on procedural wrangling trying to make reconciliation work.
Yet critics of the filibuster are still voices in the wilderness. The tragedy is that President Trump is watching his agenda be derailed by his supposed allies in the Senate. Republican lawmakers worry what might happen when they fall back into the minority. Unless they repeal the 60-vote rule and pass the GOP agenda, they will find out sooner rather than later.
Mr. Biggs, a Republican, represents Arizona’s Fifth Congressional District.