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Given President Trump’s recent tweet of a faked body slam of a journalist, I need to make it clear from the start that I’m talking about the political rather than the physical pain the Trump administration and the GOP majorities in the House and Senate will experience over the next three weeks.
#FraudNewsCNN #FNN pic.twitter.com/WYUnHjjUjg
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 2, 2017
Actually, that’s not completely true. There is almost certainly going to be plenty of indigestion and headaches from the mondo legislative agita that’s ahead, not to mention lots of torn muscles because of all the arm twisting.
There will be four main reasons for the GOP’s political pain.
1. Health Care. Senate Republicans wil l return to Washington either to pass legislation that, as Susan Page (@susanpage) and Emma Kinery (@emmakinery) reported in USA Today, is enormously unpopular, or will fail to do something they have been promising their voters for the better part of a decade they would get done.
And, if the Senate does manage to pass anything, it’s not at all certain the House will accept it.
That means that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could be increasing the reelection risk for some of his most vulnerable GOP colleagues for legislation that might never be enacted or, if it is, will be very unpopular back home.
Meanwhile, unless the GOP decides to drop its repeal and replace efforts entirely, failing to do something on health care in July will further delay (1) the fiscal 2018 congressional budget resolution, (2) fiscal 2018 appropriations and (3) tax reform.
2. The FY 2018 Congressional Budget. The world hasn’t come to an end in the past when Congress has failed, been unable or flat out refused to adopt what’s legally required to be an annual budget resolution. Therefore, it might seem correct that no budget resolution this year won’t cause any big problems either.
But this year that’s absolutely wrong. For the Trump administration and the House and Senate Republican leadership, not adopting a 2018 congressional budget resolution will be a political disaster.
Unless they decide to change the procedures, the entire Trump/GOP legislative strategy relies on Congress adopting a 2018 budget resolution that includes reconciliation instructions to the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees to do tax reform.
A budget resolution will also provide the Senate with the legally required guidelines on how much it can appropriate next year. Without that it will have trouble moving forward.
House Republicans are so divided over spending in the 2018 budget resolution that so far there haven’t enough votes to pass it and that caused last week’s planned markup in the House Budget Committee to be cancelled. The Senate Budget Committee hasn’t scheduled a markup yet.
It’s simple: No budget resolution means no tax reform this year. That’s why, as reported by Mike Debonis (@mikedebonis) in The Washington Post, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) last week started to call the still-nonexistent budget resolution the “tax-reform budget,” essentially telling his GOP colleagues that their spending decisions don’t matter; just pass anything so tax reform can move forward.
3. Debt Ceiling. Depending on which member of the Trump administration you listen to and when you listen to him, the federal debt ceiling has to be raised before the start of the August recess, should be raised by the start of the August recess but the federal government will have enough cash to operate until mid-September or the real date the debt c eiling has to be increased is sometime in mid-October.
Some lack of precision over the debt ceiling is typical given the vagaries of how much the federal government collects in revenues and when that revenue is collected. But this year’s high level of uncertainty, the inexperience of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Mnuchin’s public differences with Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney on this issue are making what was always going to be a politically difficult vote for Republicans much worse.
Also greatly complicating the situation for House and Senate Republicans is that the only borrowing increase that might be passable by the time it’s needed is one that doesn’t include any other provisions, that is, the much-desired-but-ever-divisive “clean” debt ceiling. But, as this article by Niv Elis (@nivelis) from The Hill explains, a clean debt ceiling will be a very difficult vote for many Republicans in both houses.
It’s also not at all clear that, even though Mnuchin has said he wants a clean debt ceiling increase bill and the president has said Mnuchin is the point man on the issue for the White House, a clean debt ceiling will be acceptable to Trump. This is especially the case because nothing the president has proposed likely will have been adopted by the time the debt ceiling will need to be raised.
4. Multiple Votes. The political pain from all of the above will be exacerbated because Congress probably will have to take multiple votes on each of these excruciating issues. The combination of not enough time before the start of the fiscal year on October 1; administration and congressional GOP inexperience, indecision and uncertainty; a possible presidential veto or two; and a lack of unity among House and Senate Republicans could easily result in the need for frequent votes on one or more short-term continuing resolutions, debt ceiling increases, sharply different health care plans and 2018 b udget resolutions.
For the Trump administration and Republican majorities in Congress, that means the legislative political pain over the next few months will be both intense and unrelenting.