Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Republicans on Wednesday morning to “hit pause” on their tax bill, following Democrat Doug Jones’ upset victory in Alabama on Tuesday night.
“It would be wrong for Senate Republicans to jam through this tax bill, without giving the newly elected senator from Alabama the opportunity to cast his vote,” he said at a press conference.
By “wrong,” Schumer meant that voting before Jones is seated early next year would deprive Democrats of their only realistic chance of killing the tax bill. With Jones in the Senate, and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker still a “no” vote, stopping the bill would be a matter of flipping Maine Sen. Susan Collins. Until Jones is seated, the Senate will be voting on a final conference report with the same Republican conference that provided 51 votes for the Senate’s tax bill two weeks ago.
Schumer brought a prop with him on Wednesday: a poster displaying two quotes from January 2010, when then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called on Democrats to halt health care reform after Scott Brown’s upset victory in a Massachusetts special election. In that case, then-Majority Leader Harry Reid had acquiesced, waiting until Brown arrived before proceeding on health care.
But Reid didn’t act out of the goodness of his heart. He just didn’t have the numbers. There wasn’t anything Senate Democrats, who had passed their health care bill in December 2009, could do on health care after Brown’s win, which took away their filibuster-proof majority and thereby eliminated any chance of a conference committee report passing the Senate. Many endangered Democrats, and some figures in the administration, wanted Democrats to abandon health care reform or pass a safer, narrower bill instead. It took some time for Democrats to agree on the path forward: Have the House pass the Senate’s bill—the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—and then move a separate package of tweaks through both chambers under filibuster-free reconciliation rules. They did so that March.
Unlike Reid in 2010, McConnell does have the numbers, and he intends to use them. The conference committee will hold a show hearing on Wednesday, just to check the perfunctory box marked “regular order,” but Republican conferees in private have reportedly reached a deal on some of the biggest questions, paving the way for both chambers of Congress to vote next week.
Schumer knows all of this, obviously. And he knows that even if Democrats can’t stop the bill, getting Republicans to rush an unpopular bill before Jones is seated makes for terrible optics that every Democratic candidate can use in their campaigns next year.