(Bloomberg Politics) — When the Supreme Court last week swatted down a legal challenge that could have crippled a centerpiece of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), it merely kicked the debate back from the legal to the political arena. Conservatives are still determined to fight Obamacare. But now, they’re fighting over how to fight it.
The latest plan, floated by a couple of top-tier Republican presidential hopefuls, is already facing pushback from the right.
In recent days, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, officially a candidate for president, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who appears likely to make his campaign official later this month, have both hit on the same idea for getting rid of PPACA. But it would involve killing a Washington sacred cow that is, if anything, more beloved of conservatives than it is of liberals. Namely, the Senate filibuster.
Three influential conservative organizations are reacting with reserve if not outright exasperation to the idea, floated by Walker and Bush at the prompting of conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt, of eliminating the parliamentary tool often used by Senate minorities to defend their interests. The intraparty spat illustrates how hard it will be for Republicans to reverse Obama’s signature policy in the foreseeable future, although vowing to do so may be good for ginning up conservative votes.
Bush said Friday he’d “certainly consider” endorsing an end to the filibuster if it paves the way for replacing PPACA with his preferred alternatives. Over the weekend, Walker was more categorical when Hewitt asked him the same question at the Western Conservatives summit in Denver: “Yes. Absolutely,” he said, according to the Washington Examiner.
The theory is straightforward: If Republicans can win the White House next year and maintain their majorities in the House and Senate, the only sure-fire obstacle to rolling back Obamacare would be a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, requiring a 60-vote majority to cut it off.
‘Undermine conservative principles’
The problem: Many conservatives want to preserve the filibuster, which has come in handy for them in the past. The ability of senators to use the parliamentary delaying tactic has been limited over the years, most recently in 2013 when then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, exasperated by Republican slow-walking of Obama’s federal appointees, invoked the “nuclear option” to eliminate the use of the filibuster against most presidential nominees. Still, eliminating the filibuster all together is not a popular idea inside the Beltway.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican presidential candidate, rejected the idea on Monday.
“I believe ending the legislative filibuster would ultimately undermine conservative principles,” he told Hewitt. Noting that Democrats produced the New Deal, Great Society and PPACA with super-majorities in the upper chamber, he argued that “the super-majority requirement in the Senate more often than not slows bad liberal, radical ideas.”
Pressed by Hewitt, Cruz held firm, stressing that he fought “tooth and nail to stop Obamacare” even to the point of forcing a government shutdown in 2013—for which, he noted, Walker criticized him. “Talk is cheap,” Cruz said, taking a shot at his rival.
‘A dicey idea’
Andy Roth, a lobbyist for the conservative pressure group Club For Growth, groaned when asked if his organization supports the idea of ending the filibuster to repeal PPACA, even though getting rid of the health care law is one of the Club’s top priorities. “In our experience, the filibuster has stopped more bad bills from becoming law than prevented good bills from becoming law,” he said in an interview. “So getting rid of the filibuster is a dicey idea.”
“The Club’s position still is repeal, and just because this court decision made it tougher I don’t think Republicans should give up on it,” Roth said. But he added: “We probably shouldn’t be recommending getting rid of the legislative filibuster.”
The offices of other three Republican senators running for president—Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina—didn’t return queries Monday about whether they support the idea. All of them defended the filibuster against Democrats’ successful effort to nuke parts of it in 2013, and Graham has played a leading role against attempts to weaken the tool.