For the second time in six months, Senate Republicans are making a mockery of the process that is supposed to produce legislation in Congress.
But this time, they’re going to get away with it.
The Senate tax bill has been rewritten over the past 24 hours, keeping its central objective intact — a massive corporate tax cut — but shuffling around hundreds of billions in the US economy over the next 10 years with some of these changes. Republicans are adding handwritten notes in the margins and crossing out whole sections of the bill on the fly.
This is how Norm Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, summarized it:
There has never been a more outrageous, revolting, unfair process to pass a corrupted bill in the history of Congress. That Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Jeff Flake, John McCain, Lindsey Graham have endorsed this makes anything positive they have done get erased. Unconscionable— Norman Ornstein (@NormOrnstein) December 1, 2017
We’ve seen this show before. As Republicans struggled to find an Obamacare repeal plan that would get a majority in the Senate, they cooked up a cockamamie scheme at the last minute: Let’s pass a “skinny” repeal bill and tell our members to vote for it but also promise that it would never become law. Never mind that based on what House Republicans were saying at the time, it could very well have become law in a matter of hours. The bill very nearly went from being a bug of an idea in a Republican member or aide’s mind to the federal statute in one day.
But John McCain said no. The Arizona senator, along with Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), blocked the bill. “We must do the hard work our citizens expect of us and deserve,” McCain said.
We are back here again, with the second major piece of legislation that Republicans have advanced this year, the most significant rewriting of the tax code in a generation. A little bit of “skinny” repeal — the elimination of Obamacare’s individual mandate — is, ironically enough, also in this bill.
The tax plan very nearly failed on a procedural vote Thursday, before leadership corralled its wayward members back into line. Over the past 24 hours, they have cut deals that would redirect half a trillion dollars over the next 10 years, without so much as a single public hearing or one expert testimony.
The changes to the tax bill add up to about $300b in new spending as well as $300b in new revenue. https://t.co/Ek0gxOxCl7— Caitlin Owens (@caitlinnowens) December 1, 2017
But the failure of Obamacare repeal this summer has stuck with Senate Republicans. They seem to think they have no choice but to pass this tax bill, whatever its imperfections and whatever process it takes. Their voters demand it, they claim. Their donors certainly demand it, they will admit.
“I think that’s pretty much the end of the party,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters Thursday when asked what would happen if Republicans failed to pass the bill.
So this time, they’re going to get away with it. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) is the only Republican expected to vote against the plan. He’s not worried about regular order so much; he opposes the projected $1 trillion the bill will add to the federal deficit.
Murkowski has been won over, in part, by the major non-tax provision in the bill, which would open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to more oil and gas drilling.
McCain has praised the process that produced this bill as “regular order.” It’s true that the tax plan was marked up by two committees before it came to the Senate floor. But the bill that passed out of committee isn’t the one that the Senate will pass — and the changes that are being added didn’t come through the usual amendment process, but by backroom negotiations with defecting senators.
I asked Collins, the most moderate Republican senator, on Thursday what she thought about so many big changes being made in the final hours.
“It’s not the most elegant process,” she told me. “I would say that.”
To say the least. But she announced her support for the bill the next day.