Politics & Policy

Ted Cruz’s Four Ways to Work Around a Filibuster

Sen. Ted Cruz at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, March 21, 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
The Texas senator has some ideas about how the GOP can pass more bills with fewer than 60 votes.

Dallas Shortly after his speech to the NRA’s annual meeting Friday, Texas senator Ted Cruz took a few moments to speak to National Review about what Republicans can get done in the remainder of the year, and the options they have for working around the filibuster efforts of Senate Democrats.

NRO: It’s been 15 or 16 months of a Republican president, a Republican Senate, and a Republican House. Republicans hadn’t had that in a very long time. Have you guys gotten your money’s worth out of that time? Has the time been used wisely?

Senator Ted Cruz: I am very gratified with what we’ve been able to deliver. [At the] beginning of last year, I laid out four big priorities for the Republican majority and the new administration: tax reform, regulatory reform, Obamacare, and judges. If we could deliver on those, it would have a profound effect; if we couldn’t, it would be an enormous missed opportunity.

Looking back on the past year and a half, it’s remarkable just how much we’ve delivered. We’ve got a historic tax-cut bill that is producing jobs and economic growth all across Texas and all across the country. We’re seeing regulatory reform from virtually every federal agency, lifting burdens on job creators. That’s producing enormous results as well.

On Obamacare, it’s the biggest unfinished commitment of Republicans, but we did repeal the individual mandate. I led the fight to do this in the Senate. Six months ago, no one thought we had a prayer of doing it, and in December, we brought all 52 Republicans together and we delivered. We need to finish the task.

And finally judges — I think judges have been an unmitigated success. Not only Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, but you have last year more federal court of appeals judges confirmed in one year, the first year of a president’s term, than ever before in history. Obama in his first year had four, we had twelve.

That is a very strong record on substance. Is it enough? No! We need to continue working to deliver more. Last week at the Republican Steering Committee, I did a presentation to my Republican colleagues laying out that in the past 100 years, we’ve had unified Republican control of the federal government — the presidency and both houses of Congress — four times. Since World War Two, it’s been a total of eight years of unified Republican control. This is historically rare, and we shouldn’t squander this opportunity. We should keep working day and night, every day that we’re given, to do so.

I laid out a whole series of 30 or 40 different bills that different members of the Senate have introduced, all of which, I think, can command 50 votes and unify Republicans.

Much of the presentation was on procedural vehicles that the Democrats can’t filibuster, so that we can deliver big, big wins on major priorities, whether it’s making the individual tax cuts permanent, making the small business-tax cuts permanent, all of the expensing permanent…all of those would be tremendously positive, and I think we likely could hold 50 Republicans on all of those. Whether it’s regulatory reform — things like permitting reform, shortening the time to a year or less. Or the REINS Act, saying that any federal regulation that imposes costs on the economy of $100 million or more can’t go into effect without an affirmative vote from Congress. Or Obamacare — there are a host of reforms on Obamacare that I believe likely could get 50 votes in the Senate right now: Repealing the employer mandate, the biggest job-killer in this country that is driving small businesses out of work; expanding health savings accounts, allowing people to use health savings accounts to pay for premiums, which would effectively reduce people’s premiums by 20 to 30 percent immediately. The biggest concern with Obamacare is skyrocketing premiums, we could deliver results right there…

For that matter, building the wall! Passing the El Chapo Act that I introduced, taking the money criminally forfeited by El Chapo and other drug lords, and use that to build the wall. All of those, if we’re scoring big substantive victories, that’s being responsible with the opportunity we’ve been given, and that’s the way you win in November, because you energize voters to show up and vote, because that’s what makes a difference in their lives.

NRO: You mentioned 50 votes a lot of times. The president has made it clear he’s fed up with the filibuster for legislation. Are you?

Cruz: I agree with the president we should end the filibuster. I didn’t used to think that. A few years ago, I opposed that. What’s changed is two things. Number one, the level of Democratic obstruction we’re seeing is simply unprecedented: They are filibustering everything — virtually every nominee, virtually every substantive piece of legislation. Number two, I no longer believe the Democrats will be bound by the filibuster: I think that if and when the Democrats take the majority, they will take away the filibuster in a heartbeat. It doesn’t make any sense for it to be a one-way constraint.

That being said, we don’t have the votes right now to end the filibuster within the Republican conference. We may have about half the Republicans who would support it, but there is a significant number that wouldn’t. So what I’m suggesting is, for the next six months, let’s focus on procedural vehicles that can’t be filibustered.

There are principally four:

You’ve got, number one, Congressional Review Act resolutions, which we’ve used to repeal a whole bunch of Obama-era regulations. We should use that more.

Number two, rescissions — that allows you to pull back spending. The White House is talking about putting forward some rescissions. I think we ought to look at that seriously.

Number three, the biggest one, is using budget reconciliation. That’s the vehicle for many of our biggest victories last year, including the tax cut. We ought to take up another reconciliation in 2018, and score more victories for the American people.

Number four is NAFTA. I’ve proposed to the president using NAFTA as a vehicle for regulatory reform, lifting the burdens that are killing jobs. Under trade-promotion authority, that goes to Congress on an expedited up-or-down vote. Fifty votes and it can’t be filibustered.

All of those are vehicles that we can use to get big wins now, without having to change the filibuster rules, because we don’t have the votes to do that.

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