The good news is, no more gridlock...
Yet even with this audacious victory, some items remain on the GOP agenda that simply couldn’t be wedged into a reconciliation bill. These include changes to Social Security, repeal of financial reform, possibly the full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and the nomination of like-minded judges. To secure these measures, McConnell’s first option, of course, is to try to win over enough Democrats to get to sixty votes, or at least get enough Democrats to make the plan appear bipartisan. That is the route George W. Bush used with tax cuts in 2001, and Max Baucus’s willingness to accommodate Bush, despite the fact that the supporters in the end numbered fewer than sixty, made the use of reconciliation at that time seem less illegitimate.
But two things have changed since 2001. First, back then filibusters were still relatively rare events; since Obama, they have become routine, applied to everything, big and small. Second, far fewer Democrats, Baucus included, will be willing to be used in this fashion now. So while there may be a few Democrats who move, far more than the forty necessary to sustain a filibuster are firm in their willingness to do so.
Faced with that roadblock, McConnell’s only other choice is to try to limit the reach of the filibuster. He will not be eager to do this. Filibuster-empowered delay tactics such as holds have become the bread-and-butter means of exerting power by many senators on both sides of the aisle. But the Senate leader quickly finds himself under immense pressure from the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and others to throw caution to the wind. If McConnell can find fifty votes to pass through a bill that fundamentally alters the policy landscape, eviscerating or erasing health reform and financial regulation and changing Social Security and Medicare, and confirming a slew of forty-something conservative judges who will be on the bench for decades, there is a better-than-even chance that he would succumb to temptation and erase the filibuster rule by fiat.
Would a President Romney, who, after all, has endorsed many of these elements in the course of his campaign, veto these bills? Not a chance. Would he be able, in his early days, to influence their content, perhaps by including in the Medicare plan a continuation of traditional Medicare as an option for seniors, and by adjusting the inflation levels for increasing the vouchers given to seniors? Maybe, especially since Ryan and Senator Ron Wyden announced a plan in December with those elements included. But it is very likely that Republican conservatives would seize their window of opportunity to enact at least semirevolutionary change.
Of course, there is another possibility with a Romney presidential victory: continued divided government, either because disgruntled voters throw Republicans out of their majority in the House or because they do not give Republicans the necessary three-seat gain to win a majority in the Senate. Would Romney be able to navigate through to bipartisan compromises here? For instance, could he, as a Republican president, do what Barack Obama has been unable to do: convince a significant number of Republican lawmakers to accept tax increases or defense cuts as part of a deficit-reduction plan? We are dubious. Any attempt to find common ground with Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats or Harry Reid and Senate Democrats would be met with staunch resistance by the conservatives who dominate the Republican ranks in Congress and who do not trust Romney to begin with. Alternatively, if Romney were to sign legislation passed by a Democratic Congress without significant GOP votes, he would be directly thumbing his nose at his own party’s far-right base, which holds sway over 95 percent of the Republicans in the House and at least 85 percent in the Senate. There is little in his background or current run for the nomination that suggests he has that kind of courage.
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