As dramatic as the results out of Alabama last night were, the immediate practical impact is limited. Republicans are wrapping up their work on tax breaks for the wealthy, and the GOP majority still intends to pass their unpopular bill before Sen.-elect Doug Jones (D) takes office.
As a procedural matter, the calendar appears to favor Republicans: by the time officials in Alabama certify Jones’ victory, the GOP majority in Congress expects to be finished with the entire initiative.
The Washington Post, among others, reported this morning that Democratic leaders are arguing, with no small amount of desperation, to allow Jones to be seated before moving forward on the legislation.
Senior Republican aides said Wednesday morning that they did not expect Jones’s election to slow down the tax push, citing a Christmas deadline for action that had been set months in advance.
Democrats are trying to upend that timeline, pointing to their party’s decision to slow down controversial health-care legislation in 2010 — after a Republican, Scott Brown, won a special election to fill a Senate seat in liberal Massachusetts.
“It would be wrong for Senate Republicans to jam though this tax bill” without allowing Jones to vote, Schumer said. “That’s exactly what Republicans argued when Scott Brown was elected in 2010…. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and what’s good for the gander is good for the goose.”
For those who don’t remember the details of what transpired in 2010, let’s take a brief stroll down memory lane.
In late 2009, with Senate Democrats enjoying a 60-vote majority, the party approved its controversial Affordable Care Act. A couple of weeks later, Massachusetts voters elected Republican Scott Brown, ending the Dems’ filibuster-proof majority.
In an apparent attempt at taking the high road, then-Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) said the right thing for Democrats to do would be to slow down their legislative push. “It is vital that we restore the respect of the American people in our system of government and in our leaders,” Webb said in a written statement. “To that end, I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on health care legislation until Senator-elect Brown is seated.”
Not surprisingly, Republicans were overjoyed. Then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared at a press conference, “[W]hat I think is being clear is that there will be no further action in the Senate thanks to Sen. Webb until Scott Brown is sworn in.” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) delivered impassioned remarks on the Senate floor soon after, declaring, “The people of Massachusetts have spoken for the rest of America: ‘Stop this process. Sit down and [have] open and transparent negotiations.’”
As it turned out, Brown’s 2010 victory did not kill the health care legislation: the Democratic-led House passed the Senate bill, and then-President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. But as far as Dems are concerned now, what Republicans said at the time is relevant anew.
If waiting for a newly elected senator was the right thing to do in 2010, why is it the wrong thing to do in 2017? If the people of Massachusetts were speaking for the rest of America then, why didn’t the people of Alabama speak for the rest of America yesterday?
After Scott Brown’s win, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) added, “I think you can’t just look at what happened in Massachusetts in isolation. You have to look at what happened in Virginia, what happened in New Jersey.”
This year, Democrats won big in Virginia and New Jersey, which followed the vote in Alabama. Should Congress “look at” this, too?
Apparently, the only thing missing from the equation is a Republican alternative to Jim Webb. What the nation apparently needs is a GOP senator or two who’s willing to say, “I believe it would only be fair and prudent that we suspend further votes on tax legislation until Senator-elect Jones is seated.”
Or as Brian Beutler explained last night, Mitch McConnell is “a serial violator of American political norms. His procedural extremism surprises no one. But it’s worth noting … that the norm he’s about to destroy is one he personally fought to uphold just eight years ago.”