Trump tries to boost legislative agenda in Congress

As President Donald Trump meets Tuesday with Republican leaders in the House and Senate, his legislative agenda continues to face struggles in the Congress, as GOP lawmakers look to jump start White House plans for major changes to the Obama health law, money to spur construction of new roads and bridges, a major tax reform proposal, and more.

“The President will welcome Representatives and Senators to the White House to talk more about what’s next on the legislative agenda,” said spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Here’s what Congress will try to do – with a push from the White House:

1. Senate deal making on health care. The biggest item on the to-do list is in the Senate, where Republicans are still looking for a way to come to an agreement on a plan to make major changes in the Obama health law, as there were no hints that anything had changed during the recent 10 day break. “I don’t really have anything new to tell you,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). “My personal view is we’ve got til now to the Fourth of July to decide whether the votes are there or not,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO). “We’re ready to land this airplane,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), referring to the GOP effort to repeal Obamacare. “It’s been in the air for seven years, and it’s time to come in for a landing.” But right now, it’s not clear if Republicans can cobble together fifty votes.

2. Waiting on the details of a tax reform plan. The White House on Monday night made clear that we won’t see details of a Trump tax reform bill this summer. “Realistically, our expectation would probably be after Labor Day,” said White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short, who told reporters that the White House wants to put together one Republican plan. “What we’re trying to avoid is to have a House bill, a Senate bill, and a White House bill,” Short said. Last week, President Trump said he was pleased with work on the tax bill. “Our tax bill is moving along in Congress and I believe it’s doing very well,” Mr. Trump said. But, right now, there is no bill, and according to the White House, we won’t have one for at least another three months.

3. Like tax reform, few details on infrastructure plan. This has been billed ‘Infrastructure Week” by the White House, as officials try to drum up interest and support in the President’s plans for new roads and bridges. But – like with tax reform – there is no infrastructure bill as yet in the House or Senate, or details from the White House, as officials say the specifics won’t be out for a few months. On Monday, Mr. Trump endorsed the idea of privatizing the nation’s Air Traffic Control system, a plan that was labeled “low hanging fruit” by a top adviser. But at this point, there still aren’t any details on how the President would fund a big boost in money for new roads and bridges – in fact, Mr. Trump’s own budget would cut $95 billion for road and bridge construction.

4. Work on 2018 spending bills remains in limbo. Congress has started hearings on next year’s budget, but no one knows how much money there will be to spend at this point. Federal law says Congress is supposed to approve an outline – the budget resolution – by April 15. Republicans still haven’t produced that plan, as the top line number for discretionary spending remains unclear. “We don’t have allocations yet,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), as lawmakers in both the House and Senate wait to see where Republicans try to set spending levels for the Executive Branch in 2018. Because of the Congressional schedule, we pretty much already know that there will be stop gap budgets and maybe a year end Omnibus funding measure – and don’t forget, lawmakers must raise the debt limit before August. Congress only has 43 scheduled work days between now and the end of the fiscal year.

5. Trump tries to use his powers of persuasion. With a dinner Tuesday night, and meetings with top Republicans in Congress earlier in the day, President Trump will certainly have the chance to make clear to Republicans that he wants action on a host of measures in the House and Senate. But as the above calendar shows – there isn’t that much time, especially when you take five weeks off during the summer. And when you add in major hearings on Russia, that also sucks some of the oxygen away. “There’s no doubt that keeping members focused on investigations detracts from our legislative agenda,” said Short, the White House legislative director. Right now, it’s clear the Trump agenda needs a jolt.

6. Message discipline lacking on the President’s agenda. This was supposed to be “infrastructure week” for the White House – as officials had planned for a concerted effort this week to highlight proposals by the President to improve, airlines, inland waterways, road, bridges and more. But the President has been on the attack on Twitter the past few days, jabbing at the mayor of London over terrorism, expressing frustration over court challenges to his travel and refugee order, criticizing his own Justice Department for how they handled that matter, and blasting Democrats for slowing his nominations. Whether you think those are legitimate or not – they don’t have anything to do with infrastructure.

White House officials say they expect a “busy summer” in Congress on the Trump Agenda – stay tuned.

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