By Alexander Bolton - 05-31-17 06:00 AM EDT
An impatient President Trump is putting new pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to get rid of the filibuster in order to speed progress on legislation repealing ObamaCare and reforming the tax code.
In a message posted Tuesday on Twitter, Trump urged Republican senators to invoke the so-called nuclear option and "switch to 51 votes, immediately, and get Healthcare and TAX CUTS approved, fast and easy."
Trump also suggested his party wasn't as cutthroat as Democrats when it comes to passing legislation, writing, "Dems would do it, no doubt!"
It's just Trump's latest attempt to press McConnell to eliminate the power to filibuster legislation, something Republican lawmakers firmly rejected when the president floated the idea only a few weeks ago.
That he used Twitter to do so was no surprise - but may have irritated McConnell, who has urged the president to rethink his use of social media.
Tuesday's tweet indicates the president's patience on his legislative agenda is waning.
McConnell has downplayed expectations, repeatedly refusing to put a timeline on the ObamaCare fight even as Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have raised pressure.
McConnell also has raised doubts over whether there is even a path to passing a bill, telling Reuters, "I don't know how we get to 50 [votes] at the moment."
He did warn earlier this month that "we can't take forever."
Other Senate Republicans have suggested an informal goal of holding a healthcare vote before the August recess, just days before Trump's 200th day in office.
GOP leaders hope to have the first draft completed by the time lawmakers return to Washington next week from the Memorial Day recess.
On tax reform, McConnell has sounded more optimistic, saying prospects are "pretty good."
The tacit message to colleagues: Don't let an interminable debate over healthcare derail tax reform.
Yet Senate Republicans can't even get to tax reform until they conclude work on ObamaCare.
The GOP is using special budgetary rules to pass both measures with just 51 votes. But it can't complete tax reform until it finishes work on healthcare, because the tax reform bill is subject to a 2018 budget that assumes savings on ObamaCare legislation passed for the 2017 fiscal year.
Once senators pass a new budget resolution to create a special reconciliation vehicle for tax reform, they will no longer be able to use the one they now plan to use to repeal and replace ObamaCare.
The fact that Republicans are already using the budget reconciliation rules to prevent Democrats from filibustering ObamaCare and tax reform legislation created a bit of confusion with Trump's tweet, which seemed to imply the filibuster was an obstacle. In reality, Democrats would be unable to use it to block a GOP bill under the current Republican plan.
Eliminating the filibuster altogether could speed things along, however, as the rules for reconciliation are strict and it could take weeks to ensure the legislation does not violate a six-part test known as the Byrd rule, according to Senate GOP aides.
Parliamentary experts warn that briefing Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough on various proposals and receiving her feedback before putting legislative language on paper will be a lengthy process. MacDonough will determine what falls under the Byrd rule.
At the same time, there's no guarantee the Senate can agree to an ObamaCare repeal bill with or without budget reconciliation rules. In each scenario, they can only afford two GOP defections.
"The real issue is a lack of consensus within the Republican Party in the Senate," said Dan Holler, vice president at Heritage Action for America.
Conservative and moderate senators are split over ObamaCare's expansion of Medicaid and whether to let states opt out of insurance requirements.
There's also a brewing turf battle among the various committee chairmen involved in a special 13-member healthcare working group over who will take the lead in drafting the legislation.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) is writing the legislation and responsible for making sure it passes parliamentary muster, but Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has primary jurisdiction and expects to take the lead role in crafting the policy.
Asked if the working group or the Finance panel would take the lead, Hatch said, "The Finance Committee, that's the jurisdiction."
"Don't think otherwise," he added. "We're listening to the [13-member] committee, the ad hoc committee. We're interested in listening to anybody, but it's our responsibility."
Enzi, however, told reporters the legislation "comes under reconciliation, so it's a budget function."
But he added, "I've got a lot of help."
Enzi is now laid up after emergency gallbladder surgery in Wyoming, which could further complicate the drafting efforts.
Trump's needling of GOP senators on the filibuster is nothing new.
The president lashed out earlier this month after Democrats claimed victory on legislation funding the government for the rest of 2017, which excluded money for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border - a top presidential priority.
Trump tweeted that Republicans must either increase their Senate majority in the 2018 midterm election or "change the rule now to 51 percent."
The call for reform was roundly rejected by Senate Republicans, however.
McConnell tersely stated that Trump's idea "will not happen," and others noted that more than 60 senators have signed a letter to Senate leaders urging them to preserve the legislative filibuster.