While the calendar says we are days away from the month of June, Republicans in Congress are feeling some pressure over their legislative agenda for 2017, as time is already growing short for GOP efforts to overhaul the Obama health law, pass a major tax reform bill, and enact sweeping budget cuts proposed by President Donald Trump.
There are no votes scheduled this week in the Congress, as lawmakers are back in their districts; the Senate returns to legislative session on June 5, while the House is back in Washington, D.C. on June 6.
Here’s some of what faces Republicans in the Congress:
1. Everything keys off of the GOP health care bill. Because the GOP is trying to use the expedited “budget reconciliation” process, which allows them to avoid a filibuster in the Senate, nothing involved with next year’s budget – or with tax reform – can move through the House and Senate under another reconciliation bill, until health care is settled. GOP Senators have been meeting regularly in recent weeks to decide what to do on health care – but they don’t have a deal as yet, and no one is quite sure when they might have a vote. “We’re a long ways from that,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-ND) told reporters this past week. “Damned if I know,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said about when a deal might be reached. Writing their own bill takes time. And the clock is ticking.
2. Why do you keep saying there isn’t much time? Two things are at work here – the Congressional calendar, and the limits on the “budget reconciliation” process. The authorization to use reconciliation for a health care bill expires on September 30 – the end of the 2017 Fiscal Year. So, the GOP has four months to figure out a bill, and get it approved and sent to the President. But, lawmakers won’t be here much of that four month period. In fact, between now and the end of the fiscal year – there are 43 scheduled legislative work days in the House, which mirrors the Senate schedule. That’s 43 legislative days in session spread out over 18 weeks. You could always get extra time by scrapping the August recess, or working some weekends.
3. The budget is way behind schedule – more than usual. This past week, President Trump delivered his 2018 budget to the Congress. Normally that is done in February. The House and Senate only started having hearings on spending bills this past week. Lawmakers were supposed to approve the blueprint known as the “budget resolution” by April 15. As of now, that plan doesn’t even exist. Congress is supposed to pass all spending bills by October 1, the start of the new fiscal year, but that has not happened since 1996. With the schedule still showing five weeks off during the summer, there is no way that lawmakers are going to meet that spending deadline, which will pave the way for stop gap budgets, and then most likely a year-end omnibus spending deal. Sound familiar?
4. Tax reform still hasn’t taken shape. Despite the Sunday tweet by President Trump about his tax plans, it was obvious in budget hearings last week involving Secretary of Treasury Stephen Mnuchin that a Trump tax plan is not ready to be rolled out any time soon. Remember – all we have right now is a one page document with some bullet points. Even if the White House put out the details this next week, Republicans couldn’t take it up under budget reconciliation rules until they get finished with health care legislation. And, as stated above, the GOP does not seem to be near a deal. Senate Republicans probably cannot let June go by without some kind of agreement on health care.
5. You can’t pass bills when you aren’t in DC. Whenever I point out how the Congress is going to be home for an extended break, I always hear from people who say, “If they’re not in DC, they can’t screw things up.” Yes, that’s true. On the other hand, it’s also true that when they aren’t working on Capitol Hill, they can’t pass any bills to fix things, either. And for Republicans right now, if you aren’t at work on the floors of the House and Senate, you aren’t passing any of President Trump’s agenda. Those Republican lawmakers having town hall meetings this week will get a lot of attention.
It’s not even the end of May. But time is already running short for Republicans in 2017.