With two legislative work weeks left this month, Republicans in the Congress have yet to find the magic formula to unleash action on President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda, as most of the big ticket items are still stalled behind a GOP push on health care legislation, which remains the subject of closed door Republican negotiations in the U.S. Senate.
Here’s where we stand on Capitol Hill:
1. Health care. Health care. Health care. This could be a pivotal week for Republicans in the Senate, as they try to make headway on a health care overhaul deal. If there is going to be a vote on a GOP health care bill before lawmakers leave for a July Fourth break, that would have to happen next week – which means this week would have to produce some kind of legislative breakthrough for Republicans. I can find you ten reasons why this process looks like it could turn into a burning trash dumpster at any minute. But I can also find you a lot of people who think the GOP will pull a legislative rabbit out of the hat and push something over the goal line. Whether that happens in June or July is not clear. We should have a better idea of what’s next in coming days. Democrats are trying to keep the focus on the secret talks – the GOP is having none of that.
2. 2018 budget gets more behind schedule every day. Republicans in Congress know they have no chance to finish the dozen spending bills to fund the federal government by October 1, the start of the new fiscal year. The only question is how they deal with it. As of now, no funding bills for next year have been approved. Usually, that work begins in earnest in the month of June, but a delayed Trump budget slowed that process down. There are some in the GOP who are already making the case that the GOP should scrap the regular dozen appropriations bills, and just roll every bill into a big Omnibus spending measure and pass it BEFORE lawmakers go home for their August break. I’m not sure that’s going to happen, but it’s pretty interesting that it is even being discussed by the GOP.
3. Don’t hold your breath on tax bill or infrastructure. While President Trump and Congressional leaders keep talking up their work on tax cuts, tax reform, and new money for roads and bridges – that doesn’t mean anything is going to get voted on anytime soon. As of now, the Trump White House doesn’t plan to unveil a tax bill until after Labor Day, and the same goes for an infrastructure bill. One reason is that none of that can get done until the Rubik’s cube of health care gets solved by Republicans in the Congress. So, those two big bullet points of the Trump agenda probably won’t be debated or voted on this summer, no matter how much the President or anyone else talks about it.
4. Trump will chalk up one achievement this week on the VA. On Tuesday, President Trump will sign into law a bipartisan bill to help reform the operations of the Department of Veterans Affairs. It’s the latest effort by the Congress to make it easier for officials to fire under performing employees at the VA, as previous laws have fallen short. VA Secretary David Shulkin has moved ahead with a series of internal reforms in recent months, but even he admits there are a lot of things to get done at that department. The good news is that there are a lot of members in both parties who want to help.
5. Trump nominations – delays by both parties. President Trump has made a regular part of his attacks against Democrats in Congress by calling Senate Democrats “obstructionists,” arguing they are slowing work on all of his nominations. In some ways, Democrats are slow walking a lot of nominations – but that’s only once they get to the Senate floor. Before then, the GOP controls the process, and one thing the Senate can’t control is how quickly the White House sends nominations to Capitol Hill. For example, it’s been ten days since President Trump made his choice for FBI Director – but the nomination papers still haven’t been sent to the Senate. You can’t hold hearings on an FBI nominee if the FBI nomination isn’t official.