Rather than face more potentially embarrassing legislative defeats this year like they suffered on the dramatic ObamaCare repeal vote in 2017, senate Republicans may forgo any attempts to pass their ambitious deficit chopping budget agenda in 2018.
Politico reported late Wednesday that “four sources familiar with the talks” confirmed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) raised these and other concerns at last week’s strategy meetings at Camp David.
“McConnell has argued that he cannot pass controversial deficit-reduction legislation using powerful budget procedures” in 2018, Politico learned.
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After Democratic Senator Doug Jones’ shock victory in Alabama’s special election in December of 2017, the already razor-thin Republican majority in the senate has been cut to 51-49. That means Sen. McConnell can only afford one GOP defection on any major reconciliation bill if he wants it to pass.
With senate Republicans like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine showing time and again in 2017 that they’re unwilling to sign a blank check for McConnell and Trump, there’s no way to guarantee the passage of anything this year. The cruel reality of congressional math will have even more dire consequences down the road, however, as Rachel Bade and Sarah Ferris of Politico point out:
“…More importantly, it would mean the GOP’s 2018 agenda would be sharply limited: Only with passage of a joint House-Senate budget can Republicans deploy reconciliation tools, which allow them to circumvent the Senate filibuster and bypass Democrats.”
In short, by throwing in the towel on their ambitious budget plans, they’d surrender the only tactic they were able to execute last year to pass tax reform and bring an ObamaCare repeal to the floor – which still failed when Senator John McCain (R-AZ) made his dramatic 11th hour ‘no’ vote.
House Republicans are not happy about the sudden ineptitude of their senate brethren. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI), who enjoys a much healthier majority in his chamber, has no plans to scale down his plans to legislate the conservative ideology of his more radical members.
But even those ambitious bills will eventually hit a brick wall without the reconciliation procedural tricks at their disposal in the senate. Convincing nine Democrats to support their agenda and meet the 60 vote cloture threshold of regular order isn’t going to happen, so reconciliation is their only hope.
“They need to change the cloture rule,” Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) told Politico, “but until they do, the only way we’re going to be able to accomplish anything is through reconciliation. We have to use reconciliation.”
Mitch McConnell, however, appears unwilling to fight that fight.