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Friday, March 10, 2017

Lets just destroy the senate while we're at it

by digby

Why not? They're taking a meat ax to everything else:

House Republican leaders narrowly tailored their Obamacare repeal bill to avoid violating Senate rules, but conservatives are pushing back with advice of their own: tear up the rulebook.

A growing number of conservative lawmakers on Thursday urged GOP leaders to push the limits of how much of the health law they can reshape under a powerful procedural maneuver known as budget reconciliation — and to overrule the Senate parliamentarian if she doesn't decide in their favor.

Such a gambit would require the unlikely buy-in of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a noted institutionalist who earlier this year avoided talk of changing his chamber's rules to kill the ability to filibuster Supreme Court nominees.

If the Senate changes precedent for what can be passed under reconciliation now, a future Senate — whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats — could enact a wide range of legislation with just a simple majority.

"There are limits to what we can do" on Obamacare while complying with the Senate rules, Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving Senate Republican, said in a Thursday floor speech. Under reconciliation guidelines, bills can be passed in the Senate with a simple majority and cannot be filibustered, as long as their provisions have a direct impact on spending or tax levels.

But conservatives in both chambers are still trying to make the case for sending the Senate a more far-reaching Obamacare repeal bill than the one House GOP leaders unveiled this week.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Thursday kept up his pitch for a strategy that would see Vice President Mike Pence overruling the Senate parliamentarian, if necessary.

“I have been encouraging leaders in both houses that we should not approach this with both hands tied behind our back," Cruz told reporters. According to the 1974 law that set up reconciliation, he insisted, "it is the presiding officer — the vice president of the United States — who rules what’s permissible under reconciliation and what is not.”

In the House, the top two leaders of the conservative Freedom Caucus are going so far as to press President Donald Trump to support an end run around Senate rules to get the policy provisions they want into an Obamacare repeal bill.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and vice chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) used their Thursday lunch with the president to encourage Trump to load up the bill with red-meat provisions that might not be allowed under Senate rules. If Republicans are ruled out of order, the conservative duo told the president he could circumvent the Senate parliamentarian.

Meadows and Jordan said, "‘Mr. President, if you want to reduce costs, this may not do it.’ And that’s a concern people have,” summarized Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.).

Asked how overruling Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough would work, he added: "It’s not a formal overrule. … Pence would make the ruling, or the chair would make the ruling, and obviously a Democrat would challenge that, but then you have a floor vote.”

Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) instigated a vote to overrule the chamber's parliamentarian in 2011 after Democrats grew deeply frustrated with Republicans’ blockade of a slew of Obama’s nominees.

When MacDonough ruled against Republicans during debate on their 2015 Obamacare repeal bill, they responded by tweaking the legislation to render it compliant with reconciliation rules.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) on Thursday said the GOP opted not to include provisions in their bill that don’t fit Senate rules. But hard-line conservatives, especially in the House, are exasperated with the Senate.

"I'm getting information that everything we want to do is being blocked by the Senate. I don’t buy that, on the insurance reg stuff especially,” said Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), referring to minimum insurance standards required by Obamacare. “Whoever is sitting in the chair has authority over the parliamentarian.”

Republicans tried to gut the law’s so-called essential health benefits in the 2015 reconciliation bill, but the parliamentarian said it would not comply with the rules, according to Republican sources.

The benefits requirement is the top item Republicans would like to get into the reconciliation bill. Several Republicans say they hope Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price can tweak the list of mandatory items through the regulatory process.

Brat added that the House Republicans who are refusing to support the Obamacare repeal bill — he says there are 30 — are doing so “to save Trump.”

Blowing up the Senate rules altogether has been coming for a while. It just can't function in a hyper-partisan environment by the old rules. The Democrats' mistake was in not fully blowing it up to their own advantage when they had the chance. I suspect the GOP won't be quite as reticent.

The funny thing is that President Obama and the Democrats represent a whole lot more actual humans in this country. The old system (like the archaic electoral college and the Senate itself) has worked very well to put these people in power. And they cling to the rules that favor them like they were sent down from Mt Sinai. Other rules that would keep them from exercising full power even though most of the country opposes them are not quite so sacred.

Pass the arsenic laced popcorn. This is going to be quite a show.