Trump wants Senate rules changed to speed up health care, tax legislation

By Louise Radnofsky, Richard Rubin and Siobhan Hughes Politics Dow Jones Newswires

President Donald Trump (Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

President Donald Trump called for a change to Senate rules to allow all bills to pass with a simple majority, elbowing aside Senate Republicans' current legislative strategy on taxes and health care that already rests on obtaining such a majority.

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"The U.S. Senate should switch to 51 votes, immediately, and get Healthcare and TAX CUTS approved, fast and easy. Dems would do it, no doubt!" Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.

Mr. Trump's comments about his two top legislative priorities come as Republican leaders are already using a special procedure known as "reconciliation" -- which requires only a simple majority of votes in the 100-member Senate -- to consider health-care legislation. They are planning to use the same rules for a later tax overhaul.

His request for a 51-vote majority would end the current 60-vote threshold on bills, allowing the Republican majority to advance any legislation without being impeded by the Democratic minority. Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) have said they have no intention of ending the filibuster on legislation.

Democrats, when they were in power in the Senate, ended the filibuster on confirming executive branch appointments and most judges in 2013, while Republicans ended the filibuster for Supreme Court justices earlier this year.

In reaction to the tweet, Republicans highlighted that they are already using a procedure that would allow the party to pass the two measures on a simple majority vote. Reconciliation is a limited exception from the filibuster rules that was created as part of past budget laws.

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"Sen. McConnell agrees that both health-care and tax reform are essential, and that is why Republicans in Congress are using the reconciliation process to prevent a partisan filibuster of these two critical legislative agenda items," said Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for Mr. McConnell, in a statement.

She also pointed to Mr. McConnell's statement last month that the Senate wasn't interested in ending filibusters for legislation, as it did when it changed its procedures in order to confirm Supreme Court justices with a simple majority. "There's not a single senator in the majority who thinks we ought to change the legislative filibuster -- not one," Mr. McConnell told reporters in April.

Mr. Trump also floated the idea of eliminating the filibuster in early May, when it was also dismissed by lawmakers.

Eliminating the filibuster would also mean that Republicans wouldn't have to pass a fiscal 2018 budget before they can move to a tax bill. That budget process is likely to be a challenging fight among defense hawks, spending cutters and tax-cut advocates.

Mr. Trump's tweets have kept his allies and opponents off balance during policy fights. His tweet Tuesday and a previous one over the weekend raised new questions about how he views the tax overhaul and the health-care plan.

Mr. Trump's reference to "tax cuts" stands in contrast to his own budget, released last week. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said the budget assumes there wouldn't be a net tax cut, though Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin seemed to contradict that in simultaneous congressional testimony, by saying that tax cuts would be paid for partly with stronger economic growth.

On Sunday, Mr. Trump tweeted about the health-care legislation that has already passed the House after a tough fight, which his own aides hope will not be tossed aside by the Senate in a bid to start from scratch.

"I suggest that we add more dollars to Healthcare and make it the best anywhere. ObamaCare is dead - the Republicans will do much better!" he wrote.

The GOP plan currently rests on a repeal of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and much of the spending associated with it, and a new set of provisions offering financial assistance and incentives for people to obtain health coverage. Throwing out the 2010 health law and enacting the Republican replacement would result in less federal spending, not more, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Republicans have invested months of effort in using the reconciliation maneuver, which brings particular complications because it is tied to the budget process and limits the scope of what can be considered.

Despite the decision to press ahead with reconciliation, and seek 50 or 51 votes rather than the usual 60, GOP Senate leaders are already wary about their chances to press through a health-care bill given the party's slender 52-member majority in the upper chamber.

That means the party can lose no more than two GOP votes, assuming no support from Democrats. Democrats have been unified and vocal in their opposition to overturning the health-care policy that was the signature domestic achievement of the Obama administration.

Meanwhile, at least three GOP senators on either end of the party's caucus have signaled irreconcilable differences, making the path forward far from straightforward.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 30, 2017 12:48 ET (16:48 GMT)

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