The US Senate is an interesting legislative body with rules and procedures that make little sense to anyone who does not closely follow the legislative process.
Many people believe that the US Senate requires all pending legislation to obtain a 60 vote majority before the body is able to pass a bill with a simple majority. It is true that Senate rules require a three-fifths majority vote to end debate on most pending legislation; however Senate rules also allow for some legislation to bypass the need for cloture – the legal term for voting to end debate and avoid a filibuster. UPI reports, “The procedural tactic [of reconciliation] was first introduced as a means for legislators to quickly alter budget-related legislation. In order to help quicken the process, legislation being considered under reconciliation is not subject to filibuster. The caveat is that the legislation must relate strictly to matters affecting the federal budget.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was hoping to use reconciliation on a bill designed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate’s parliamentarian, said parts of the bill were policy-focused which meant the entire bill would not be subject to reconciliation.
This ruling seemed to prompt Republican leadership in the Senate to come up with an alternative proposal called a “skinny repeal,” which was only made public a few hours before Senators were scheduled to vote on it, and appeared to be subject to reconciliation. The UK Guardian reports, “Republican senators had made clear that they did not expect – and did not want – the bill to become law. Instead, they were hoping it would trigger a conference committee, where they can enter into negotiations with the House on a much broader plan to repeal and replace the 2010 healthcare law.”
When the bill came up for a vote, it was rejected. Meaning that despite having a majority in both chambers of Congress, and having a President willing to sign legislation, the Republicans have failed to deliver on a seven-year old campaign promise.
Maybe it’s not their fault. Consider for a moment that the system is designed to preserve the status quo. Congressional rules make no distinction between adopting new laws and repealing old laws. It is just as difficult to repeal, as it is to repeal-and-replace.
Maybe a new set of rules is needed so that any legislation that only repeals existing statutes and regulations (i.e. strikes words and does not add new words) requires only a simple majority, and does not require a cloture vote to end debate or the threat of a filibuster; and any legislation that creates new statutes or regulations – or adds any words to an existing law – is not only subject to cloture rules but also requires a three-quarters majority for passage. If this were adopted in conjunction with other proposals such as the One Subject At A Time Act, Read the Bills Act & Write the Laws Act, Congress would have a much harder time infringing on our rights, and more time to repeal bad laws.