While the Senate battle over President Donald Trump’s nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court has soaked up most of the news oxygen in recent days in Washington, D.C., there is still action on Capitol Hill on a variety of other issues, though that work has been certainly overshadowed by the political firestorm raging on Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.
“How much is this fiasco costing and is any real work getting done?” one of my listeners asked me on Tuesday, prompting me to think about what Congress was doing, other than the Senate fight over Kavanaugh and the Supreme Court.
Here are five headlines that don’t relate to Kavanaugh, with five weeks until Election Day.
1. The House is done until after the elections. While the 2018 legislative schedule for the U.S. House had lawmakers working the first two weeks of October, GOP leaders sent everyone home last Friday, as the next votes in the House won’t take place until after the November elections. That means from July 26 – when the House went on an extended summer break until Labor Day – through the second week of November, the House will have held a total of 10 days of legislative business. This type of schedule has been seen before – back in 2012, GOP leaders in the House gave lawmakers a similar break, so they could go home and campaign. Here’s an old tweet about that to show that history repeats itself.
2. House passes GOP plans to make tax cuts permanent. In a vote mainly along party lines last Friday, the House voted 220-191 in favor of a Republican bill which would insure that a series of individual and small business tax cuts don’t snap back to higher rates after 2025. The tax cuts signed by President Donald Trump at the end of last year have permanent tax relief for corporations, but most of the individual and small business tax relief was only done for eight years. What was interesting was to see which members broke party lines on the vote. The 10 Republican “No” votes were from districts where the new limits on state and local tax deductions are going to hurt a lot of taxpayers who make a lot of money, but aren’t close to the top. All but one were from New York and New Jersey. Of the three Democrats who voted “Yes,” two – Rosen and Sinema – are running for the U.S. Senate.
3. 56 Republicans vote against military funding bill. Just as interesting as the vote tally on the tax cuts was to see which members voted against a bill that funded the Pentagon, along with major health programs, and extended temporary funding for a series of federal agencies until December 7. Normally, a defense spending bill would get nearly unanimous support on the Republican side of the aisle, but in this case, 56 Republicans voted against the plan, alongside a handful of more liberal Democrats. The opposition was for a number of reasons – the temporary funding plan, the lack of money specifically for a border wall – or even for broader deficit issues. But if you’re a Democrat running against one of these GOP lawmakers, you could easily work up a 30 second advertisement that Congressman Fill-in-the-blank doesn’t support the military.
4. Senate poised to approve major opioids bill. Before leaving for the elections last week, the House approved a 624 page bill chock full of different federal plans to deal with opioid abuse. “Seldom are there times when you’re legislating, that you can say that what you’re doing will actually save lives. This is one of those times,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), as the bipartisan plan includes dozens of ideas from lawmakers to help with treatment, stopping opioids being sent through the mail illegally, and finding ways to crack down on fentanyl. The vote in the House last Friday on the bill was 393-8 in favor of the plan. The bill should get overwhelming approval in the Senate, and be sent on to the President for his signature.
5. On the road to a $1 trillion deficit? The new fiscal year got underway on October 1 – and if you believe the budget estimates of the White House – the federal deficit will go above $1 trillion in 2019 for the first time since 2012. The deficit so far for 2018 is almost $900 billion, with just the numbers left for September. The reason for the increase in the deficit is pretty simple – tax revenues have slowed because of the President’s tax cut, and spending has increased. It wasn’t that long ago that Republicans were condemning Democrats for not coming close to a balanced budget during the Obama Administration. Current White House estimates say President Trump will run up as much in deficits as President Obama. Make sure to read the whole Twitter thread from one of my colleagues on Capitol Hill.