Despite promises of action from the White House and top GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill, major elements of President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda remain where they have been much of the year in Congress – not moving very fast – as GOP leaders promise to kick things into gear over the next few months in the House and Senate.
Here where things stand on major action items for both President Trump and Republican leaders in the Congress:
1. Republicans gear up for one more run on health care. Under the rules of the expedited process known as ‘budget reconcilation,’ Republicans have until September 30 to push ahead with a bill to overhaul the Obama health law. In early August, the GOP gave up after falling one vote short on a “skinny” GOP health care plan – but now, there is one last ditch effort underway, spearheaded by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), who have come up with a plan to mainly block grant money to the states, and allows them to forge plans to cover low income Americans and those in the individual health insurance marketplace. You will see a push on this over the next week.
2. Still waiting on details of Trump tax reform plan. Behind the scenes, the talks continue among Trump Administration officials and top Republicans in the Congress – but there’s still no deal and no bill on tax reform. House Speaker Paul Ryan announced this past week that an ‘outline’ of a tax plan will be released the week of September 25 – then, after that, the tax-writing committees of the House and Senate will start to forge a bill. President Trump has been urging Congress to get moving on the plan, saying this week that a tax reform plan would be a good way to generate new economic growth in the wake of damage from both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. Back in 1986, it took over a year to get a bill through the House and Senate. Republicans seem to think they can do it by Christmas in 2017.
3. No movement yet on a budget resolution. If Republicans are going to use budget reconciliation to press ahead with tax reform, then they will have to approve a budget resolution in the House and Senate – a budget framework for 2018, that sets spending levels for the federal government. The problem is – the GOP can’t seem to come together on how best to forge those details. The House Budget Committee approved a plan back in late July, but it has not been brought to the floor for a vote. In the Senate, there’s even been talk of a “shell” budget resolution, just for the basic purpose of moving ahead with tax reform. Some budget hawks in the House Freedom Caucus want to force Congress to scale back on entitlement spending in order to lower future spending levels – but that has divided the GOP, and left the budget resolution in limbo. And if that’s in limbo, then so is tax reform.
4. No sign at all of an infrastructure bill. The President keeps talking about the need to build more roads and bridges. He wants a $1 trillion plan, spurred by $200 billion in seed money from the feds, in a public-private funding partnership. On Wednesday, the President met with moderate lawmakers of both parties, and once again repeated his call for action: “For decades now, Washington has allowed our infrastructure to fall into a state of total decay and disrepair,” the President said. “And it’s time now to build new roads, new bridges, airports, tunnels, highways, and railways all across our great land.” Except that’s it. There’s still no bill. No plan from the White House. Nothing from the Congress. Zip. Nada. Zero.
5. The House does something for the first time in 8 years. This week, the House approved a package of 8 spending bills – to go along with four others approved in July – as for the first time since 2009, the House approved all 12 bills that fund the operations of the federal government before the start of new fiscal year on October 1. (Back in 2009, the House finished that work on July 30). While that sounds great for the GOP in 2017, the Senate has not done one of the bills, and won’t be getting to them before the month is over. In the last 41 years, Congress has only finished the appropriations bills on time in 1996, 1994, 1988 and 1976. Four times in 41 years. So, when it came time for House Republicans to celebrate their ‘achievement’ at a news conference, there was little interest from the press, since it’s been obvious for months that the bills aren’t going to get done on time this year – yet again. That’s why we already have a temporary budget in place to fund the government until December 8.
6. It’s almost Christmas. I know it’s not almost Christmas, but that’s the way it feels on Capitol Hill, because before you know it, the end of the year will be here. A temporary budget ends on December 8, which could mean a showdown over money for the border wall, and a possible government shutdown. Thanksgiving gets in the way. The House will take next week off, and a week in mid-October. And then everyone wants to be done in December as early as possible. Can you get health care, tax reform, spending bills, a deal on DACA and immigration, and more done in that time period? So far, the Trump agenda hasn’t moved very far. GOP lawmakers and the White House now have about three months to change the trajectory of that story line.