Pressure mounts for filibuster changes

Greg Nash

BALTIMORE — House Republicans are twisting the arms of their Senate GOP colleagues over the filibuster, arguing it’s time to change the rules.

Senate Republicans held a special meeting in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to discuss proposed changes that would make it tougher for the minority party to block or slow legislation.

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But there’s still strong reluctance among GOP senators to limiting the filibuster. Some fear they may find themselves in the minority in 2017, particularly if business mogul Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump postpones Hispanic roundtable California governor: Clinton should be worried Labor leader: Clinton told me NAFTA should be renegotiated MORE wins the GOP presidential nomination.

Several House Republican exhorted GOP senators to set their reservations aside during a joint retreat at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

“There’s been some discussion, and the senators are here. Are they hearing that? It’s been raised two or three times in the last couple times, but is it falling on deaf ears or not?” Rep. Randy WeberRandy WeberDem rep tells Trump to ‘shut the f--- up’ over Ginsburg criticism GOP rep: Ginsburg's actions 'must be met with consequences' House GOP defense policy bill conferees named MORE (R-Texas) told reporters after morning meetings.

“We would argue that the Senate has been the holdup for a long time,” he added.

Many House Republicans were frustrated that Senate Democrats were able to use the filibuster last year to block a stopgap government funding bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood, a family planning group that provides abortions. 

Democrats were able to block the funding bill last fall, raising the threat of a government shutdown. Fearing that they would get the blame, Republicans backed down and pulled the Planned Parenthood language from the legislation.

A lawmaker who attended the retreat said there was a “lot of drumbeat to have the Senate reform the filibuster rules in regard to appropriations bills.”

“On the appropriations process, I think one of the frustrations was we had moved half of the bills through the House, none of them were taken up in the Senate,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told reporters. 

“I’ve been clear that I want to see the bills that we move out of the House brought up in the Senate,” he said.

House Republican leaders claim Senate Democratic Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDems put immigration front-and-center on convention's first day Dem ad blasts Indiana senate candidate on Social Security Super-PAC targets Portman on trade MORE (Nev.) promised them during last year’s budget talks that he would not block spending bills in 2016, but there is broad skepticism he’ll follow through.

House Republicans burst into laughter when Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanBiden should have been the clear choice for vice president Trump, Clinton intelligence briefings likely to start next week Clinton maps out first 100 days MORE (R-Wis.) told them of Reid’s promise last year. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellProgressive group changes tone on Kaine Trump hits Kaine on TPP: He supports a 'job killer' Clinton maps out first 100 days MORE (R-Ky.) has convened a special task force to review possible filibuster reforms, but they have yet to recommend a specific set of changes.

One proposal would be to eliminate the minority party’s ability to filibuster motions to begin debate on spending bills. By requiring 60 votes to move bills before they even come up for debate on the Senate floor, the minority party is able to obstruct without having to vote on amendments, minimizing public attention. 

Republicans used the tactic many times when they were in the minority from 2007 to the end of 2014.

But the proposed reform hasn’t gone over well with some senators.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) warned that getting rid of the 60-vote hurdle on the motion to begin debating spending bills would create a “super class” of lawmakers on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“I don’t think people have fully thought through the unforeseen consequences of creating a more expedited path just for appropriations bills. Then you create a class of super senators or super legislators among appropriators,” said Sasse, a member of the Senate task force.

He argued that it would create an incentive for lawmakers to attach more policy riders to spending bills, which are supposed to focus narrowly on funding issues.

"Some Republicans seem to be in denial that there is a decent chance, because of the unpopular Republican leadership in Congress, that Republicans may lose the Senate and a possibility that Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonCalifornia governor: Clinton should be worried Labor leader: Clinton told me NAFTA should be renegotiated Clinton campaign chair: Wasserman Schultz was 'diversion' MORE wins the presidency,” said Brian Darling, a former Senate GOP aide.

 Senate Republicans walked out of Wednesday’s meeting without a clear sense of what reforms to rally around. They will send the issue to the Rules Committee to review over the next several weeks.

McConnell wants to change the rules through regular order, which would require 67 votes and broad bipartisan support. 

House conservatives, however, say McConnell should consider using a controversial procedural tactic known as the “nuclear option” to change the filibuster rules with a simple majority vote. Reid and the Democrats employed it in 2013 to eliminate filibusters of executive branch and judicial nominees.

“If they can do it, why shouldn’t we do it to undo what they’ve done?” Weber said. “Why shouldn’t we restore liberty and progress back to American industry?”

Rep. Matt SalmonMatt SalmonLGBT fight dooms spending bill on House floor A hearing brought to tears over Right to Try legislation Time for national Right to Try legislation MORE (R-Ariz.), a prominent conservative, argued that Democrats have abused the Senate rules to shift power to the Obama administration.

By blocking spending bills from passing individually, Democrats last year forced the appropriations measures to pile up in a year-end catch-all omnibus, which was negotiated by senior White House officials and congressional leaders.

Salmon raised the issue during a breakfast session with columnist George Will, who challenged lawmakers to be more aggressive in using the Constitution's Article I power of the purse.

“Our biggest problem is funding by omnibus and not by actually authorizing and appropriating,” Salmon, a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, told The Hill.

“As long as our spending is always an all-or-nothing, big, ugly irresponsible vote ‘yes’ on the omnibus or shut down the entire government proposition, we’ll never reclaim Article I authority,” he said.

Frustration with the Senate boiled over last year after Democrats stymied the effort to defund Planned Parenthood. House Republicans pressed for language reforming the filibuster rules for spending bills in the year-end fiscal talks, but Senate Democratic leaders rejected it.

The bubbling anger among conservatives added to the bitter fight over who would succeed former Rep. John BoehnerJohn BoehnerDem drops out of race for Boehner's old seat Conservative allies on opposite sides in GOP primary fight Clinton maps out first 100 days MORE (R-Ohio) as Speaker. Republicans settled on Ryan after he promised to change House processes.

“That’s the primary cause of the division in the House — is the filibuster in the Senate,” Rep. Trent FranksTrent FranksRyan treads carefully with Trump When Newt and Pence were on opposite sides House GOP defense policy bill conferees named MORE (R-Ariz.) told The Hill in October.