LEWISTON, Maine — House Speaker Sara Gideon, the Democrat facing U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in November, said Tuesday she would support repealing the Senate filibuster if needed for her party to pass major legislation on issues such as health care.
The answer came days after national Democrats began raising the idea anew amid rosy polling in swing states and as Gideon rolled out a health care agenda reiterating support for a Medicare-like public option. It is a possibility if Democrats control both houses of Congress and the presidency after the 2020 election, but it would be unlikely without ending the filibuster.
Collins, a Republican, rebuked Gideon’s stance through a spokesperson and has defended the procedural move, though it has eroded over the past decade in a tit-for-tat partisan battle. It allows any senator to block a vote on a bill unless 60 senators vote to end debate on it, dooming all but consensus legislation.
Gideon has narrowly led Collins, a Republican, in all public polls this year in Maine’s highly watched Senate race, one of several that could determine which party controls the upper chamber. The race will use ranked-choice voting and also features independents Lisa Savage, a teacher and former Green who favors Medicare for All, and businessman Max Linn.
“I think what Americans need and what Mainers need more than anything is government that functions and I think that the filibuster prevents us from functioning and making progress on issues,” Gideon told reporters after a roundtable discussion on health care at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.
It came after she fleshed out her thoughts on health care earlier in the day. Her proposal is built on policies she has previously advocated for, including a public option similar to one put forward by former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee. She also supports increasing the Medicare reimbursement rate and using Medicare to negotiate drug prices.
If Democrats take control of the Senate and the presidency, major legislation on issues including health care would face slim chances with the filibuster in place. Decision Desk HQ, the Bangor Daily News’ election results partner, gives Democrats a 77 percent chance of winning a majority.
Top Senate Democrats — including some who have advocated alongside Collins for preserving the filibuster — have indicated openness to ending it if they take over in 2021, with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, telling Politico this week that “nothing is off the table.”
Both parties have already rolled back the filibuster for judicial appointees — Democrats in 2013 and Republicans in 2017. It remains in place for most legislation. Collins characterized that latter decision on judicial nominees as “inevitable” and “unfortunate.”
“Eliminating the legislative filibuster to ram through a far left agenda is bad for Maine and bad for America,” Collins spokesperson Kevin Kelley said on Tuesday.
On health care, Collins voted with the rest of her party against the Affordable Care Act in 2010, but joined two other Republican senators and all Democrats to block a repeal of the law in 2017, citing lack of an adequate replacement.
The 2010 health care law is still facing a court challenge from the administration of President Donald Trump due to a 2017 Republican tax bill that passed the Senate in a party-line vote. Collins voted in favor of that bill, though she has criticized the administration’s refusal to defend parts of the health care law. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in that case a week after the November election.