President Trump and Republican leaders were able to breathe a sigh of relief last night as election returns came in from two special elections — in Georgia’s 6th district and South Carolina’s 5th district — showing GOP holds in both seats, albeit by relatively narrow margins. In the more prominent of the two races, Republican Karen Handel bested Democrat Jon Ossoff in the most expensive race ever run in the House of Representatives, where Democrats were hoping a win coulddemonstrate momentum in their efforts to block the Republican legislative agenda. Instead, the Republican wins could prove to be a boon for their legislative initiatives on health care and tax reform.
In Washington, all eyes are on the Senate where Republicans are preparing for a vote on their version of a health care overhaul next week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has suggested that a discussion draft will be made public tomorrow. Still, many Republican lawmakers have maintained that they have yet to see legislation, and others have expressed concerns on the Senate working group’s final product. Leader McConnell is aiming to bring the bill to the floor as soon as it receives a score from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), with a final vote occurring as soon as next Wednesday. The White House has further muddied the waters on what to expect, with press secretary Sean Spicer saying yesterday that the President “wants a bill that has heart in it.” Republican Leadership appear determined to hold a vote as soon as possible —regardless of whether or not they have votes to pass, potentially — and are hoping that the accelerated timeline will press moderate senators who may be on the fence.
Floor action today in the House features two suspension bills and one to be considered pursuant to a rule. The suspension bills (H.R. 2131; H.R. 1282) are both holdovers from yesterday’s docket, and are focused on reforms at the Department of Homeland Security. The bill that will be the focus of floor discussion today (H.R. 1873) aims to streamline the processes for the removal of overgrowth near power lines on federal lands, ostensibly to improve grid reliability. Specifically, the bill would allow electric utilities to submit to the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) long-term plans that would guide vegetation management and maintenance activities on or adjacent to rights-of-way containing electrical infrastructure on federal lands.
In the Senate, lawmakers are hoping to clear the nomination queue before the anticipated health care drama next week. Today, two roll call votes are expected on Treasury nominees, specifically to confirm Sigal Mandelker as Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes and to invoke cloture on the nomination of Marshall Billingslea to be Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing.
or now, taxes are secondary to health care and other policy issues. But the GOP is planning a busy fall, and Mr. Ryan said he hoped the tax bill could be done before Thanksgiving so taxpayers would have a clear sense of the new system going into 2018.
So far, however, Republicans haven’t resolved most of the major issues that divide them and they haven’t settled core questions about whether they want tax cuts or a tax overhaul, whether they want a temporary bill or a permanent change and exactly who would win and lose from the inevitable trade-offs.
Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council, said Tuesday Mr. Trump’s aides are aiming for a unified plan among congressional lawmakers and the administration by September. He spoke at a “listening session” with technology company executives. Mr. Cohn said the president checks in daily on the issue.
Tax policy could gain momentum if Republicans can pass a health law that repeals parts of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and cuts hundreds of billions of dollars in taxes that wouldn’t have to be addressed as part of a tax plan. Failure on health care would create complications for a tax bill, but it might also create pressure on Republicans to bank a major accomplishment.
Among the current challenges facing Republicans:
The biggest is internal opposition—particularly in the Senate—to Mr. Ryan’s plan to add a border adjustment to the corporate tax, which would tax imports and exempt exports. Mr. Ryan sidestepped that issue on Tuesday and is forging ahead in the absence of an alternative.
Some Republicans have urged Mr. Ryan to drop border adjustment, contending that his insistence on it is holding up progress toward a deal.
Republicans also have to decide whether they want a tax cut or a revamp of the system that would lower rates for individuals and companies while leaving federal tax collections nearly unchanged. Conservatives and some of Mr. Trump’s aides favor a tax cut.
Trump spends more time on twitter than minding his business in the White House. Republicans are doomed.