Before the elections, pollsters were confident that the United States faced another four years of divided government. Virtually every prognosticator in the country predicted that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would win the presidency, but face at least a GOP-controlled House. They were all wrong. Far from being pushed into a media-predicted civil war, Republicans won a complete victory on November 8, with Donald Trump winning the White House while Republicans maintained control over both chambers of Congress. This opens the door to at least two years of frenzied legislative activity, particularly on tax reform.
Unlike their Democratic opponents, Republicans have a clear agenda on tax and fiscal policy and have been working on it for years. Former House Ways and Means Committee Chair Dave Camp laid the groundwork with an ambitious draft in 2014. House Speaker Paul Ryan and new Ways and Means Chair Kevin Brady put out a new GOP blueprint earlier this year. And Senate Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch has been working on an ambitious corporate integration proposal that is almost ready to be unveiled. The GOP is ready to go, and when President Trump takes office there would seem to be no obstacles to an aggressive legislative agenda.
Except one. Republicans hold only 52 seats in the Senate, meaning that Democrats could filibuster bills by making sure that the chamber falls short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture. While reconciliation could be used to move pure revenue measures (as it was in 2001 for the Bush tax cuts and in 2010 for the final pieces of Obamacare), that would severely limit what Republicans could accomplish as part of a grand rework of the nation's tax system. It's also unclear how clean of a vehicle reconciliation would be for repealing the parts of Obamacare that Republicans dislike. The so-called fiscal cliff in 2012 was the consequence of Bush-era Republicans using reconciliation in 2001.
Trump, Ryan, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might not want to have to repeat that mistake. And that's where McConnell becomes arguably the most important figure in the early part of the Trump administration. The Kentucky Republican could move -- like Democrats were planning to do after a Clinton victory and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer becoming majority leader -- to change Senate rules and finally eliminate the 60-vote threshold for closing debate on legislation. McConnell is said to be hesitant to take that step, but there is no doubt that Republicans are seriously thinking about their options, particularly in the case of Supreme Court nominees.
It's not entirely clear that Republicans will need to kill the filibuster to move major tax legislation. There are 10 Senate Democrats from states where Trump won 55 percent or more of the vote who face reelection in 2018. Those Democrats might be willing to work with Republicans to pass a tax reform package that could be sold as relief for individuals and businesses. And facing four years of Trump, and that same midterm math, the Democrats might not be as aggressive in stymieing a Trump Supreme Court nomination as McConnell was when he was facing less than a year of President Obama.
But that would be shortsighted thinking by McConnell. Even if he can get a few Democrats to cooperate on a tax bill or a repeal of Obamacare, it's still likely that the minority party will do its best to frustrate much of the rest of the Republican agenda. And Republicans are in little danger of losing the Senate any time soon. It's time for them to take a step that has been long overdue and eliminate the archaic cloture rules.
Parties that win elections must be allowed to govern. This applies to both Democrats and Republicans. With the hyperpartisan climate that has gripped Washington since 2009, that simply can't happen under the current Senate rules unless one party wins 60 seats (which is rare). Republicans and Obama have shown the futility of governance under divided control. We don't need any more proof to show that the Senate's antiquated filibuster rules are out of touch with modern U.S. politics. For the sake of tax reform, and simply for the sake of a functioning legislature, McConnell should finish Harry Reid's work and put an end to unnecessary filibusters.