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Senators Running for President Defend the Filibuster

Rivals and allies, Cruz and Rubio are demanding the Pentagon report on Iranian military capabilities. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Rivals and allies, Cruz and Rubio are demanding the Pentagon report on Iranian military capabilities. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If using the nuclear option to repeal Obamacare becomes a GOP litmus test, then the Republican senators running for president will have a problem.  

Both Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have told conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt some variation of no way, no how to the idea of ending the 60-vote threshold for filibusters of legislation.  

“Absolutely not. I would never vote to change the filibuster for Obamacare or anything else, because it served the country well,” Graham said last week. “But what I would do is use reconciliation, the budget process that they used to pass Obamacare, to repeal Obamacare. But I wouldn’t change the Senate rules. Reconciliation only requires a majority vote if it’s in with the context of the budget. That’s how they passed Obamacare with 51 votes.”  

That put him squarely in line with Cruz, who has been consistent on the point since being asked about it by CQ Roll Call back in January.  

Florida Republican Marco Rubio is with them too, it seems.  

“Senator Rubio is open to discussing all options to repeal Obamacare, but believes that the filibuster has been an important tool in stopping Democrats’ efforts to expand government,” spokeswoman Brooke Sammon said in a statement.  

Attempts to solicit a response to the question from the campaign of Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., were unsuccessful over the Independence Day recess.  

Within the Senate Republican Conference, there’s broad support for maintaining the legislative filibuster, though there is more support for putting the simple majority requirement to limit debate for most executive and judicial nominations into the Senate rules, and there’s a debate about whether to apply that to future nominees to the Supreme Court.  

Current Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., made the change to the handling of nominations by setting a new precedent, rather than by changing the underlying rules.  

It is entirely predictable that senators would support maintaining the supermajority requirements, cherishing their role as the “cooling saucer” of the government.  

The problem for the senators lies outside the beltway, where even if there is a feasible way to gut the health care law through reconciliation (something that’s a matter of serious contention because of the deficit impact),  someone like Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush could accuse his opponents in the Senate of not doing everything in their power to repeal Obamacare.  

Walker got the question late last month at the Western Conservative Summit in Colorado, where his reply to a question from Hewitt on what to do if it there aren’t legislative alternatives was simply, “yes, absolutely.”  

Bush’s response to the question on Hewitt’s radio show was slightly more nuanced, focusing on the need for the GOP to unite around a replacement through the 2016 campaign.  

“If the replacement is what I’m going to advocate, then I might consider that, because I think a free market-oriented approach where people are empowered to make more of these health care decisions, where they’re supported through the tax code, and we focus on high-deductible, low premium catastrophic coverage as the replacement that’s portable, that allows us to grow our economy again, and allows for a rising disposable income for the great middle of our country, then I would certainly consider it,” Bush said.  

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