When Democrat Doug Jones won the Alabama Senate race last week, it put pressure on Congressional Republicans to hurry up and pass the tax bill. Democrats are arguing that because they allowed former Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) to be sworn in before voting on the Obamacare bill, Republicans must wait for Jones to be sworn in before they vote on the tax bill. However, the two situations are not the same — but that isn’t stopping Democrats from grandstanding.
Currently, Republicans control the Senate with a slim 52-48 majority. When Jones takes his seat, that will shrink to only 51-49. As I wrote a few days ago, Jones is expected to be sworn in at the end of the month, after the Alabama Secretary of State certifies the election results. Republicans are pushing hard to get the tax bill passed before the Christmas holidays and before Jones takes over the Alabama Senate seat from Republican Luther Strange.
The full text of the bill was released on Friday, with the House voting today and the Senate expected to follow either tonight or tomorrow.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) returned home to Arizona to recuperate from cancer treatments and will miss the vote. This leaves Republicans with a margin of only 51-48, but revisions in the bill late last week were enough to get holdouts like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) on board, and the bill is expected to pass.
Still, there are no guarantees until the vote is actually taken, and both Democrats and Republicans know that Senate Republicans are nervously making their way across a tightrope without a net: with McCain out, it would only take one Republican Senator’s defection for Vice President Mike Pence to be needed to break the tie. Two Republican defections would almost certainly mean the death of the bill.
Cue Democrats’ demands to hold up the vote until Jones is sworn in, which would then mean that a single Republican defector would be enough to kill the bill. They’ve got their social media interns working overtime putting together video clips from back in 2010 of Republicans arguing that Scott Brown needed to be sworn in before the Obamacare vote, like in this example from the Senate Democrats, and an even more melodramatic one from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA):
— Senate Democrats (@SenateDems) December 13, 2017
McConnell in 2010: Don’t vote on ACA until Scott Brown (R) is seated.
McConnell in 2017: Don’t seat Doug Jones (D) until vote on tax bill. pic.twitter.com/wiZB0D5KgQ
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) December 15, 2017
The Democrats are right about one point: they had the majority in 2010 and did indeed allow Brown to take his Senate seat before the Obamacare vote.
However, this argument misses a key point: the Democrats were willing to seat Brown because it was an empty promise and he was powerless to affect the Obamacare vote.
The 2010 Massachusetts Senate special election was triggered when Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) passed away on August 25, 2009. At this time, Democrats had majorities in both the House and Senate, and another Democrat, President Barack Obama, in the White House.
Kennedy’s death left Democrats with a 59-40 majority in the Senate, meaning that if a Republican were elected to Kennedy’s seat, that would deny Democrats the 60-Senator threshold needed to prevent Republicans from filibustering bills.
Brown embraced this as a major part of his campaign messaging, even using the hashtag #41stVote on Twitter, encouraging Massachusetts Republican voters to turnout to vote for him so that he could be the vote to kill the Obamacare bill.
Brown won the special election on January 19, 2010, and headed for the Senate, fired up and ready to kill the Obamacare bill…
Oh, but wait: the bill passed anyway in March 2010. Why weren’t Brown and the other 40 Republican Senators able to filibuster it?
Because the Democrats decided to change the rules.
Instead of passing Obamacare through the normal legislative process, in which Brown as the 41st vote would have allowed Republicans to filibuster, Democrats changed course in the eleventh hour of negotiations and decided to pass the bill through reconciliation., which requires only a simple majority to pass and cannot be filibustered.
The Democrats had a 59-41 majority in the Senate, and they didn’t fight Brown taking his seat before the Obamacare vote because it didn’t matter and Brown could not stop them.
Obamacare would eventually pass on a completely party line vote — not a single Republican voted for it — and was signed into law by Obama in March 2010.
In other words…
2010: Democrats had a 59-41 majority for a bill that needed only 50 votes. They allowed Brown to take his seat because it wouldn’t matter.
2017: Republicans have a 52-48 majority for a bill that needs 50 votes, and seating Jones means one single Republican defector would kill the bill.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.