No, the Filibuster Isn’t Keeping 50 Republican Senators From Reaching Agreement

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Sean Duffy wants to blame the failure of the Trump legislative budget so far on Senate rules that barely even apply to the legislation in question. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

It’s a frustrating time to be a Republican, and particularly a strongly pro-Trump Republican like Representative Sean Duffy of Wisconsin (who made news just last Friday by saying there was “nothing wrong” with Donald Trump Jr. meeting with Russians). Nearly six months into the Trump era, the GOP’s legislative accomplishments are diminutive, and now the long-awaited health-care bill is in the ditch, without a vote even being scheduled. Normally the thing to do would be to blame it all on the godless liberal Democrats, but since said Democrats have been almost entirely uninvolved with every major Republican legislative initiative this year, that doesn’t pass the laugh test. So Duffy’s blaming it on the Senate, or more specifically, on “stupid Senate rules,” as Breitbart News enthusiastically reports:

Monday on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends,” Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) blamed the U.S. Senate filibuster rule for preventing President Donald Trump’s agenda from being passed into law.


Duffy argued the Democrats will end the filibuster when they regain control of the Senate and that the GOP has a mandate from the American people to pass Trump’s agenda since the passage of Obamacare in 2010.


“Get rid of the filibuster rule,” Duffy explained. “You only need 51 votes. Get rid of it.”

The best response to Duffy is actually the chyron Fox News was displaying beneath coverage of the congressman ranting while Fox & Friends participants nod sagely:

It reads: SENATE NEEDS 50 VOTES FOR HEALTH CARE BILL.

The bill cannot be filibustered. Nor, more than likely, will Democrats be able to filibuster any other main piece of the Trump/GOP agenda — notably the budget resolution and the tax bill it enables — which, like Trumpcare, will be brought to the Senate floor under special budget procedures that limit debate and prohibit filibusters.

Can any bill be brought to the Senate floor under these special budget procedures? Of course not; bills protected from filibusters have to be germane to the budget, which means wildly unrelated proposals — many of which people like Sean Duffy might favor — are excluded. But let’s be real: You can smuggle a lot through Congress using the budget process, as Republicans understood when they chose it a long, long time ago as the means of achieving their 2017 agenda (Duffy’s fellow Wisconsinite the Speaker of the House referred to the budget-reconciliation process that bans filibusters as the “bazooka in my pocket” in planning for a year when Republicans finally controlled the White House and both branches of Congress).

So the problem is not “stupid Senate rules” but (a) dissension in the Republicans ranks and (b) the manifest unpopularity of GOP legislation, particularly Trumpcare. If the GOP were in a position to pass regular legislation through the Senate without fear of a filibuster, there would probably be even less party unity and more unpopular legislation, since the budget’s “germaneness” rules keep out some especially toxic conservative ideas (say, messing with contraception coverage in employer-sponsored health plans).

Duffy is indulging in a congressional tradition of inter-cameral hostility and finger-pointing that is older than the two-party system. But on this occasion, at least, it’s misguided.

What’s scary, though, is that Fox & Friends is one of Donald Trump’s favorite shows. Trump has been known to complain about Senate rules, too, which, like health-care policy, are complicated. Duffy’s rant may soon be echoing in the White House, if it’s not already.

Filibusters Aren’t Stopping Key GOP Bills