Ryan Office: Republicans Can Still Filibuster

by Jonathan Strong

House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s office has responded to National Review Online’s report about a provision in the budget deal that limits the Senate GOP’s ability to block tax increases, arguing that the Republicans in the Senate can still block the passage of any tax bill by filibustering. Specifically, a provision in the budget deal voids the opportunity to raise a “point of order,” which establishes a 60-vote threshold, when a bill would “pay for” spending increases with tax increases.

Ryan spokesman Will Allison says:

The provision would not allow Senate Democrats to pass a tax increase with a simple majority vote. Senate Republicans still have the right to unlimited debate and can force any tax hike to meet the 60-vote threshold. More information on the purpose of reserve funds is available here. As the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee wrote in 2009: “In effect, [reserve funds] have become the latest incarnation of Sense of the Senate (SoS) amendments — non-binding, throwaway, hand-waving provisions.” Chairman Ryan and House Republicans have never wavered in their commitment to block any tax increase on the American people.

The comment does not dispute that the ability to raise such a point of order has been eliminated, instead focusing on senators’ general authority to force a 60-vote threshold with a filibuster. It’s true that the GOP retains the ability to filibuster, but that’s not really the point, Senate Republicans argue.

First, once cloture has been achieved (after a filibuster has ended), a given bill can be amended, allowing an opportunity to include a tax increase on a bare-majority vote. That happened in September when the defund-Obamacare provision was removed from the CR the Senate had reached cloture on.

Secondly, it’s far more difficult to win a vote to defeat cloture on an overall bill — say, a bill funding veterans — than it is to sustain a point of order that focuses the vote specifically on keeping the spending caps in the Budget Control Act.

“Murray (with Reid’s assent, no doubt) has succeeded in including a provision to remove one of the central enforcement mechanisms we have in the Senate to keep spending limits in place, while enabling new taxes or fines to pass with as few as 51 votes. It is a huge thing to remove the ability in key circumstances . . . to hold a vote on whether or not to waive budgetary rules,” a Senate Budget Committee aide says.

A former Senate aide explains further:

Reid can easily file and invoke cloture on a revenue bill that doesn’t increase taxes. He could then begin to offer majority-vote amendments to raise taxes pursuant to the DNRF language. If those post-cloture amendments were adopted, the only hurdle left for the bill — which now increases taxes — is the simple majority vote on final passage.

How do we know Reid might do something like this? Because it’s EXACTLY what he did during the shutdown. He took a House bill that repealed Obamacare, filed and invoked cloture on it, then used an amendment that only needed a majority vote to change things he didn’t like in the underlying bill.