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Scott Walker to Senate: Get rid of the filibuster, repeal Obamacare with 51-vote majority

Scott Walker.
Scott Walker.
Richard Ellis/Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

Scott Walker wants the Senate to get rid of the filibuster, and thinks it should be able to pass "anything" with a simple 51-vote majority — a major reform that could make it much easier for future presidents to enact their parties' agendas.

In an interview with CNBC's John Harwood, the Wisconsin governor and presidential candidate pointed out that most states get by just fine without supermajority requirements to pass new laws, and accurately observed that the filibuster is mentioned nowhere in the US Constitution.

Here are Walker's full comments, according to an extended version of the transcript obtained by Jonathan Chait:

Walker: I've said repeatedly I think they can pass it [a repeal of Obamacare] on a 51 vote. And I frankly, not just on this issue, I-- I don't buy the argument that that shouldn't be the margin for just ab-- anything going forward.

Harwood: You think they oughta get rid of the filibuster.

Walker: Yes. It's on the constitution. I mean the — the constitution doesn't require 60 votes for anything in the United States Senate. States all across America operate on simple majorities. The checks and balances are between the chambers and between the legislative branches.

Now, technically, a President Walker would have no say whatsoever over filibuster rules (though his vice president could conceivably provide a tie-breaking vote to change them if necessary). It's up to the Senate — and, just two months ago, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's team indicated he had absolutely no interest in doing anything of the kind.

Still, plans can change. Harry Reid rejected filibuster reform in January 2013, but just months later he rammed through a rules change eliminating the filibuster for almost all presidential nominations. (The 60-vote supermajority requirement to break a Senate filibuster is still in effect for legislation and for Supreme Court nominees.)

And as Ezra Klein wrote, more Republican elites have been gradually turning against the filibuster of late. Conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt, for instance, has been repeatedly pressing 2016 GOP contenders on whether they'd "break the filibuster" to repeal and replace Obamacare — in June, Jeb Bush tried to dodge the question, and then said he'd "consider it."

And earlier this summer, Hewitt asked Walker whether, "if it's necessary to do so," he'd "break the filibuster to repeal Obamacare root and branch." Walker answered, "Yes. Absolutely."

If filibuster reform becomes a hot issue, the stakes for 2016 would dramatically be raised

Filibuster reformers like to focus on the long term. Getting rid of the supermajority threshold is said to be a good idea, they argue, because it would make it easier for electoral victors to enact their preferred policies — and easier for the voters to hold them accountable for those policies.

But in the short term, eliminating the filibuster would probably help Republicans more.

That's because control of both the presidency and the Senate looks up for grabs next year — but the House is highly likely to stay in Republicans' hands. So even if Democrats retake the Senate and hold on to the presidency, new liberal bills will still likely be blocked by the GOP in the House. Filibusters wouldn't matter all that much.

On the other hand, the biggest roadblock for a new Republican president would likely be the Senate, where the party currently controls 54 votes. Only two Democratic-held seats (one in Colorado, one in Nevada) look like they'll be seriously contested, which means it doesn't look like the GOP will end up with 60 seats. So filibuster reform that let legislation pass with a simple majority would greatly help a new Republican president pass new legislation. It would make it much easier for someone like Scott Walker to deliver on his promises to Republican supporters — promises such as repealing Obamacare.

Despite this, though, some conservatives fear that eliminating the filibuster could prove a blunder in the longer term. Ted Cruz, for instance, told Hewitt in June that he believed "ending the legislative filibuster would ultimately undermine conservative principles." He added, "I think the legislative filibuster, the supermajority requirement in the Senate, more often than not slows bad liberal, radical ideas — that I think as the framers described it, the Senate serves as a saucer to cool the heat of the House."

Meanwhile, one person who seems to agree with Walker's support of reform is Barack Obama. In an interview with Vox earlier this year, the president said he wanted to eliminate "the routine use of the filibuster in the Senate." He added, "The filibuster in this modern age probably just torques it too far in the direction of a majority party not being able to govern effectively and move forward its platform."

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