Why Not Get Rid of the Senate Filibuster Altogether?
by FRANK HILL
April 19, 2017
America's Debt Ship Is Coming Ashore
Now that we have your attention with all this red ink in the above chart put together by Jon Gabriel (it looks like the bow of a mighty aircraft carrier, or worse, the Titanic, heading for shore or an iceberg, doesn't it?), let's think aloud about how we might be able to use some of the seismic cracks in Washington to address our debt and economic growth problem now that the Senate has 'nuked' the filibuster when it comes to Supreme Court nominations....
First of all, a caveat: We think the US Senate should remain as different from the US House of Representatives and virtually every other legislative body in this nation and around the globe. It was set up to be 'The World's Greatest Deliberative Body' for a reason...namely because Founders far smarter than anyone who has come after them said it would be the best way to set up our democratic republic.
We are not adverse to going back to the whole 'unanimous consent' idea plucked from the Roman Senate long ago where every single Senator had to agree on the final legislative package, not just a majority or super-majority.
Think about the rough edges that would be filed off of any bill if every single Senator had to be mollified in some way to get a bill passed. Maybe that would neuter most legislation to mere gruel where nothing much of substance gets done.
Or maybe Senators start to realize that if they stand in the way of something YOU want to get done as a Senator, YOU will stand in the way of THEM getting something done as Senator
The filibuster, in some form or fashion, has basically worked so far. We hope they come to their senses in the Senate and restore coherent rules regarding the filibuster once everything settles down some.
In the meantime, we got to wondering with some folks:
'Hey! Since the Senate has already nuked the filibuster in judicial nominations, what if they 'nuked' the rules for other Senate bills, say, such as the budget reconciliation package everyone has said we might get in 2 parts this year: the first dealing with Obamacare repeal and the second, with tax reform.'
Stay with us here if you can. Paying any attention to a budget analyst as he/she explains the rules of the US Senate AND budget reconciliation (BR) procedure is like being kind to a stray dog or cat in the neighborhood.
They appreciate any and all the attention and love they can get.
It occurred to us that one of the huge blockades to getting Obamacare repealed was Speaker Ryan trying to craft the first phase of a 3-step process as a bill that would cut $1 trillion of spending by eliminating most of what was in the guts of the ACA. He said the reason was to use BR so Republicans would only need to a simple majority vote to win and avoid the Byrd Rule (too complicated but we have explained it before in other posts) and then move on to tax reform.
What if the US Senate suspended the role of the filibuster when it came to all budget-related matters?
It would require a majority of the Senate to agree to amend the BR rules, which would look a lot like the recent vote to 'change the rules' before confirming Justice Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
Once the filibuster was removed from any budget-related matter or process, there would not be any reason to have to concoct a less-than-optimal repeal of Obamacare which could then be replaced by whatever the Republican majority wants to replace the ACA with.
The Republican Majority in Congress could pass a bill that:
1. Repeals Obamacare (to the tune of over $1 trillion in savings over 10 years)
2. Repeals many to all of the Obamacare taxes which are close to $1 trillion in total.
3. ADDS on the tax reform many Republicans have been dying to pass for decades now.
In the absence of the threat of a filibuster, and with new amendments to the BR process in the US Senate, this Congress and President could pass a simply GIGANTIC Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 2017 (GOBRA) that:
1. Cuts taxes by $2 trillion over 10 years ($1 trillion repeal of ACA taxes; $1 trillion tax reform tax cuts) AND
2. Cuts spending on ACA by $1 trillion over the next decade AND
3. Reduces tax breaks to the tune of close to the tax equivalent of $1 trillion over the same period of time.
Current tax law produces a sheltering of taxation through so-called tax expenditures of close to $2 trillion PER YEAR! The goal of any coherent tax reform plan has to be the severe flattening of the tax code across-the-board, first in the tax rates and second, in the number of tax exemptions available in many cases to only very special few taxpayers.
As humongous as it seems, the $2 trillion in tax cuts over 10 years represents roughly only 1% of GDP compared to the economy over that same time period. Pair $2 trillion in tax cuts with some combination of $1 trillion in ACA spending savings plus a mere shaving of many of the favored tax provisions of the US tax code today to come up with $1 trillion in elimination of tax breaks and you have a budget-neutral GOBRA to present to Congress in 1 phase, not 2 or 3.
Or, as the Debt Ship chart above suggests, come up with a package that throws off $200 billion in surplus per year to pay off the now-over $17 trillion in debt owed to the public.
That would 'only' take 85 years until the year 2102 to pay our national debt off to zero.
Think about that for a moment.
Contributing Editor Frank Hill ran for Congress at the age of 28 and served as chief of staff for former Congressman Alex McMillan (NC-9) and Senator Elizabeth Dole (NC). He was a budget associate on the House Budget Committee for 4 years and worked on the 1994 Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform. He now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina where he does some consulting and lots of worrying about federal spending issues.