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Friday, November 24, 2017

    With Few Wins in Congress, Republicans Agree on Need to Agree

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    With Few Wins in Congress, Republicans Agree on Need to Agree

    WASHINGTON — Most people do not become United States senators to pass a resolution declaring National Lobster Day. But Congress has had to settle largely for small-bore victories since President Trump was sworn into office, ostentatiously failing to pass a bill to repeal his predecessor’s health care law and achieving little substantive policy legislation.

    The floundering Republican agenda — particularly remarkable in a period when new presidents tend to be most productive with a Congress controlled by their own party — has attracted bipartisan scorn from lawmakers. It has also engendered some pity from those who see Congress as hamstrung by a dysfunctional White House.

    But within the misery monsoon that has befallen Congress this year lies some potential silver linings.

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    After years of partisan fighting over the health care law that was President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement, Democrats and Republicans now admit that they will probably have to work together to make many of its much-needed fixes. “We’ve realized our limitations,” said Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona. “I think we will work together to get more bipartisan legislation. We’ve just got to.”

    Republicans are deeply motivated to get a major tax bill passed and signed by the president and have returned to committee chambers — rather than the private back rooms of leaders’ offices — to get the process rolling.

    Perhaps most important, Senate Republicans have begun to stiffen their spines against Mr. Trump, who has spent the better part of his presidency alternatively ignoring, undermining or outright denouncing the efforts of Congress to legislate. On Thursday, before leaving on a monthlong recess, the Senate set up a system to prevent the president from appointing senior administration officials to posts that require confirmation in the senators’ absence.

    Among its more notable successes this year, and against Mr. Trump’s objections, Congress passed a tough Russia sanctions bill with a veto-proof majority, which the president begrudgingly signed this week. Congress also approved a law to help veterans get health care — a bipartisan, bicameral, messy but ultimately successful effort that came together with zero involvement from the administration.

    A complicated debt ceiling fight may be averted now that Mr. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said on Thursday that Congress could lift the ceiling on the nation’s debts without having to make spending cuts in exchange.

    “There is more good happening here than people know about,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee. He added that he expected further bipartisan agreement on various policy efforts now that the Senate has dropped the health care battle and Republicans are gaining momentum on a tax package that they desperately need to win. As for the role of the president in all that, “I haven’t thought about it,” he said.

    Indeed, most of the coming efforts in Congress run counter to what the White House has suggested ought to happen.

    On the health care front, many lawmakers are already busy figuring out a way to stabilize the individual health insurance market and to fund the cost-sharing subsidies that Mr. Trump has threatened to end.

    “I had Democrats bombard me right after the health care bill went down on that Friday morning,” said Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, speaking of the dramatic 49-to-51 vote in the early hours of July 28. He said he was already knee-deep in work across the aisle on health care: “There was almost a quiet sense of hope.”

    Mr. Trump’s budget requests have largely been ignored or rebuffed by the Senate, as were his administration’s notions on how to manage a bill to fund the Food and Drug Administration, which passed the Senate on Thursday.

    While efforts to change the tax code have been hampered by the failure to repeal the health law, the motivation by congressional Republicans to work together and move beyond internal party disagreements has been, for now, bolstered by a deep desire to succeed.

    “On the next big thing, we can’t fail,” said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the third-ranking Senate Republican. “We have to double down on tax reform.”

    There is no question the lift ahead is heavy. Congress has yet to pass a budget, something that should have been done this spring. Without measures to fund the government, a shutdown threat, which has become a feature as endemic to Washington as the annual cherry blossom run, will loom. Democrats in the House and Senate may make their own mischief with the debt ceiling, tying it to the Republicans’ tax bill.

    Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California and the House minority leader, has expressed support for a clean debt ceiling hike. But her spokesman, Drew Hammill, said Ms. Pelosi “has also echoed the concerns that many House Democrats have about supporting such a move while Republicans simultaneously blow a multitrillion-dollar hole in the deficit with tax reform for the rich.”

    “We are awaiting a plan from the Republican majority on how they plan to accomplish lifting the debt ceiling,” Mr. Hammill said.

    It is not entirely clear that Republican leaders can deliver the votes on their own. What is more, Congress this fall must also tackle the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which may well get entangled in other budget and tax issues.

    As Republicans head to their respective states and congressional districts for recess, their lack of accomplishments hangs around their collective necks. Many small bills passed by the House were never considered by the Senate; that chamber pushed through a number of small measures on Thursday to give lawmakers something to brag about back home.

    But some Republicans say legislative achievements will remain elusive without unity on a host of public policy issues that the party could not tackle during the eight years of the Obama administration. Within, and between, the two political parties remain massive gulfs.

    “It’s not Congress’s job to see how many bills we can pass,” said Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina. “Otherwise there would not be working groups and task forces designed to study overcriminalization and overregulation. You can’t have it both ways, can’t pat yourself on the back for passing a law and four years later pat yourself on the back for repealing it.

    “Our first challenge is to define those principles upon which our party is based, and then pursue legislation consistent with those principles,” Mr. Gowdy said. “I think we are still stuck on the first prong.”

    (Why?)

    Published at Fri, 04 Aug 2017 09:00:25 +0000