A U.S. Senate with no filibuster?

Photo by Abby Livingston

The future of the federal legislative process could fundamentally be changed by the outcome of the 2018 congressional midterm elections, if not sooner. Senate Republicans may have to eliminate the legislative filibuster to pass their version of the ObamaCare repeal bill. With no legislative filibuster, then both the U.S. Senate and House will simply be majority-rule legislative bodies. Essentially, the minority parties in both chambers would have no voice in the legislative process — unless the majority party in either chamber is divided.

If they were to win a majority, Democrats would want to move legislation to the president's desk, but to get it past a Republican minority, they would have to eliminate the legislative filibuster. The legislative filibuster could survive only if Democrats believe their legislation would be signed by the president, or would have enough bi-partisan support to override a presidential veto. Today, this latter situation is unlikely, as Democrats (elected officials and especially activists) are in no mood to compromise on policy with Republicans and the president. Maybe by 2019 this will have changed, but it seems highly unlikely one year out from the 2020 presidential election. It seems to us that Democrats in Congress will want to pass legislation that their core supporters want and which forces Republican members of Congress to take tough and unpopular votes with their base voters. Those Democrats will want legislation that helps make the case for unified Democratic leadership under Democrats from the White House to Capitol Hill.

Democrats are likely to make major gains in the 2018 mid-term elections — not so much because of President Trump and the Russia issue, but because Republicans in Congress have proved to the American people that they don't know how to govern the country. After years of calling for the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, it turned out that Republicans had no consensus in the House or between the House and Senate for a replacement that would actually make our nation's healthcare system better and more affordable for all Americans and state governments.

As with healthcare reform, Republicans have no consensus on tax reform or tax cuts, no consensus on an infrastructure plan, no roadmap for harnessing the transformative power of artificial intelligence to help create jobs and grow our economy, or a coherent vision of America's role in the world. Both China and Russia are currently outmaneuvering our nation on the world stage.

If the 2018 elections were held today, it is possible that Democrats could win back both the House and Senate. But in politics, a few months time is an eternity and intervening circumstances could change things.

One final observation: If you think things are bad now in D.C., that there is gridlock on Capitol Hill and that our nation is divided and diminished as a global leader, imagine what would happen if a Democratic Congress were to remove President Trump from office and Vice President Mike Pence became President of the United States? (Yes, we know a Republican House impeached President Clinton, but remember, the Senate voted not to convict him.)

To protect our nation and their own majority in Congress, Republicans not only have to govern by building a national consensus, but also to get to the bottom of the Trump and Russia issue.

If Republicans don't do their job, there will be tougher times ahead for both their party and our nation.

God Bless America.

Disclosure: Texas Southern University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Michael Adams

Interim Dean, Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, Texas Southern University

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