While President Donald Trump has been active in churning out executive actions to follow through on some of his campaign promises, his legislative agenda in the Congress has not jumped out of the starting gate on Capitol Hill, as he continues to look to chalk up his first significant legislative achievement.
Here is where we stand on a number of fronts in Washington:
1. GOP health care overhaul remains in limbo. The one major issue where Republicans have tried to take action is on the Obama health law, but those plans remain bogged down in the Congress. Yes, there was a lot of noise in the halls of the Capitol this week about Republicans making another big try at finding agreement on health care, but there was no real evidence that an agreement was near, as the GOP remains short on votes, but filled with internal finger pointing over who is blame for the failure. President Trump has tried to use the bully pulpit to get more conservative Republicans in line, but it hasn’t worked so far, as members of the House Freedom Caucus have said repeatedly that they aren’t going to sign on to a plan that is “Obamacare Lite.”
2. Trump Tax Reform plan not ready for prime time. While there was talk of moving quickly on to tax reform in the immediate aftermath of the Republican troubles on health care, the White House made clear this week that there is no plan ready to be rolled out just yet. “The team is weighing the best option to develop a plan that will provide significant middle-class tax relief and make American businesses more competitive,” said spokesman Sean Spicer. Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said last week that he believes a plan could be passed by the House and Senate by August – but that prediction was met with raised eyebrows in the halls of Congress, where it’s been over 30 years since the last tax reform package made it through the House and Senate. There’s a simple reason why – it’s not easy.
3. Money for the border wall seems to be on hold. While President Trump has long talked about building a wall along the southern border with Mexico, squeezing money immediately out of the Congress for that might not happen. The White House wants $1 billion in funding in a measure that will fund the government for the rest of the current fiscal year, through the end of September. But Democrats have made clear they will filibuster any bill that has money for the wall, which could lead to a government shutdown. Key GOP lawmakers say that money for the wall may have to wait until later this year, and they especially don’t like one part of the Trump plan, which would make cuts at the National Institutes of Health as part of that spending package. The wall sounds great – but there are a number of Republicans who don’t feel it’s a funding priority.
4. The Congressional schedule and a government shutdown. Also standing in the way of quick action on any Trump legislative agenda items is the schedule for Congress, which will be in session next week, and then take two weeks off for an Easter break. Once lawmakers return on April 17, they will have eight scheduled legislative business days to figure out how to avoid a government shutdown on April 28. April 29 will mark the 100th day of President Trump’s time in office; Republicans don’t want to have to mark that day with a government that is not open for business. We could well repeat the whole government shutdown threat at the end of September as well. It will be interesting to see how the President handles that, plus the need to raise the debt limit later this year.
5. White House notes renaming of VA clinic – in Pago Pago. During Friday’s White House briefing, something from Press Secretary Sean Spicer caught my ear, as he was rattling off bills that the President would be signing. Most of the new laws approved so far by Mr. Trump have been special resolutions that repeal certain rules and regulations of the Obama Administration – but this one was much more limited, as Spicer noted, “H.R. 1362, naming a VA outpatient clinic in Pago Pago, American Samoa.” That clinic was renamed for the late delegate Eni Faleomavaega, who died recently – he was a popular personality in the House for many years. But let’s get down to business – VA clinics in Pago Pago weren’t at the top of the Trump Legislative Agenda, and probably wasn’t something you thought you would hear mentioned at the White House Briefing.
6. Continued signs of White House friction with some GOP lawmakers. This last week, President Trump used Twitter to take multiple jabs at the House Freedom Caucus, and several specific Republicans in the Congress, urging them to get on board with his agenda, including the GOP health care bill. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) said it was made plain to him that the President would try to knock him out of office in 2018. And then there was a top Trump aide who urged a primary challenger in 2018 for Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI). One thing I noticed in the hallways of Congress in recent weeks is those type of threats don’t scare more conservative GOP lawmakers.
Yes, it’s still early for President Trump. There are other agenda items like a big infrastructure package for roads and bridges, which is also not even on the table yet – as it is not obvious when he will be able to celebrate a big legislative success in Congress.
And like in sports, momentum is always important in politics.