- With 12 legislative days left in 2017, pressure is mounting on President Donald Trump and Republican leaders to come through with legislative wins.
- This week will be defined by the Senate fight over the GOP’s proposed tax-code overhaul, a necessary step to deliver a legislative victory for the GOP.
- On the heels of the tax fight is a battle to avoid a government shutdown on December 8, which could also lead to a slew of policy battles on everything from healthcare to the border wall to the NSA’s spying powers.
As the first calendar year of Donald Trump’s presidency comes to a close, the next two weeks will be jam-packed with legislative battles that could define the administration for the rest of the term.
On the legislative docket, among other things, is the Republican push to overhaul the tax code; a government funding bill to prevent a partial shutdown; the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program; various healthcare bills; and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The pile of deadlines and priorities will be difficult for Trump and congressional Republicans to navigate, as there are only 12 days left on Congress’ 2017 schedule.
First things first: the Senate tax bill
The first week of the gruelling two-week stretch will be keyed on the passage of the GOP’s massive tax bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, in the Senate.
The bill, which cleared the Senate Finance Committee before Congress’ Thanksgiving recess, is expected to be rolled out Tuesday for debate and amendments on the Senate floor. A vote is expected by the end of the week – and passage will be imperative to deliver on Trump’s promise of a tax bill signed into law by the end of the year.
While Trump has been able to claim a series of regulatory and judicial wins in his first year, the president does not yet have a major legislative victory. Passing the tax legislation would serve as that victory and ease pressure on Republicans heading into the 2018 midterm elections.
“The Republican Party exists as a species to cut taxes – this is what they do,” Chris Krueger, an analyst at Cowen Washington Research Group, said in a note to clients last month. “In control of the Presidency, House, and Senate for the first time since 2006, what good are they if they can’t deliver on taxes? This is a bit of a derivative from the self-preservation thesis, but we hear it constantly as one more data point in the tax reform inevitability argument.”
But passing the bill, even with the mounting pressure, is no guarantee. One Republican, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, has already said he’ll vote against the current iteration of the bill. Other Republicans with concerns include Sens. Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, and Bob Corker.
The push will also serve as another test of Trump’s dealmaking prowess, a skill he touted in his run to the White House. The self-described “closer” was unable to help shepherd a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act through the Senate in July and September. And after public battles with many lawmakers, the tax fight could reveal the degree to which Trump holds sway over lawmakers.
Trump is expected to meet with Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee at the White House on Monday and the full GOP Senate conference on Tuesday at its weekly luncheon, with the goal of shoring up votes.
“The Tax Cut Bill is coming along very well, great support,” Trump tweeted Monday. “With just a few changes, some mathematical, the middle class and job producers can get even more in actual dollars and savings and the pass through provision becomes simpler and really works well!”
Then comes the shutdown fight
On the heels of the possible Senate vote on the tax plan is a fight over government funding. The current funding legislation, signed in September after Trump made a deal with Democratic leaders, expires December 8, after which the government would go into a partial shutdown absent new legislation.
Both Democrats and Republicans are likely to try to include other legislative priorities into the funding package, most likely complicating the dynamics ahead of votes. Here’s a quick list of things that could be attached to the bill:
- CHIP funding: The funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which helps children and pregnant women access healthcare, ran out at the end of September. Some states could begin to ration care unless the program is funded this month.
- DACA and the border wall: Congress has until March 5, 2018, to authorise the controversial Obama-era policy that shields from deportation nearly 800,000 young immigrants. By adding it to the shutdown bill, Democrats could pressure GOP members to support preserving the program. Trump has suggested that funding for his long-promised wall along the border with Mexico must be included on any DACA compromise.
- The Alexander-Murray Obamacare-stabilisation bill: The bill would extend funding for government payments to insurers and include measures designed to shore up the Obamacare markets. Despite having enough support in the Senate to pass, the bill has not been brought up by Republican leadership.
- More disaster relief: The White House requested an additional $US44 billion to help recovery efforts from natural disasters in Texas, Puerto Rico, Florida, and the US Virgin Islands.
- Reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act: Section 702 of FISA, which allows the National Security Agency to survey communications without a warrant, expires at the end of the year.
- National Flood Insurance Program: The program’s authorization was kicked until December 8 but needs to be renewed. The House passed a long-term extension of the NFIP on November 14.
As Krueger said, each of these issues comes with its own difficult political calculus, so pressure on Trump and GOP leaders will be high. Democrats, on the other hand, will do their best to extract policy victories of their own in the shutdown fight.
“And it is not just one issue – any one of the issues mentioned could be the catalyst for a shutdown; many of which have no real middle-ground and/or politically tenable compromise,” Kreuger wrote Monday. “Which is sort of why they have waited so long.”
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