Did Donald Trump set the bar too high, as Mitch McConnell suggested, for Republican governance out of a lack of experience in politics? The Senate Majority Leader claimed yesterday that Donald Trump didn’t understand parliamentary procedures and deadlines, and so set expectations too high for Congress to meet. This morning, White House social media director Dan Scavino slapped back at McConnell’s “excuses,” and wondered how much longer than seven years voters should expect Republicans to take in repealing ObamaCare:
— Dan Scavino Jr. (@DanScavino) August 9, 2017
McConnell’s blame-shifting in this regard is especially rich, considering what else the GOP Congress hasn’t done. In March 2015, Republicans patted themselves on the back for passing a concurrent budget resolution after six years of obstruction from Harry Reid in the US Senate. They considered it a return to responsible governance, as well as the start of regular order in budget negotiations.
Two years later, with Republicans in control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, the House budget resolution hasn’t yet come to the floor by the August recess, let alone get passed to the House. That matters, as I write in my column for The Fiscal Times, because Republicans have to have a concurrent budget resolution in order to move forward with comprehensive tax reform under reconciliation in the Senate. Both the budget and tax reform appear to be the next big failures of Republican leadership to produce on repeated campaign promises:
The Atlantic‘s Russell Berman writes that fiscal conservatives in the House, still smarting from having to vote for an ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill they disliked, do not trust Ryan on tax reform enough to sign off on the budget. At the same time, the so-called Tuesday Group of House Republican moderates oppose the cuts to entitlement spending that will allow for the tax-reform package to pass under reconciliation, which requires a significant reduction in deficit spending in order to qualify for simple-majority passage.
Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), a Trump ally, tells Berman he’s willing to sign off on the budget. But he’s not optimistic that it will matter. “We have an eternal conflict within ourselves,” Reed explains. “I think that’s going to be very difficult to get done.”
The budget resolution isn’t the only obstacle to tax reform. Congress has to pass 12 appropriations bills by the end of next month to avoid a government shutdown, plus pass a debt limit hike to cover the borrowing necessary in the current budget as well as the next one. Those will all require 60 votes in the Senate, which means that Ryan and McConnell will have to cut deals with Democrats to get those passed. That will limit the amount of money Republicans can cut from spending, which will also make tax reform under reconciliation even more difficult, even if Republicans found a package that would unite them in support. Thanks to the August recess, Congress will have less than a month to accomplish all these tasks.
In short, the window may have already closed on the GOP’s other major agenda item this year, thanks to the long delay in passing a budget resolution. Steve Forbes told CNBC on Monday that Republicans have “botched” tax reform, which is a fair interpretation. The best Republicans can do now, Forbes argues, is to cut tax rates, make them retroactive to the beginning of the year, and push off any ideas of comprehensive reform until the next session of Congress.
Voters expected Republicans to unite in governance, and to fulfill their campaign pledges after getting full control of Washington. They expected, as Scavino suggests, that Republicans would do the job and push the agenda for which they campaigned. Did they have their expectations set too high, too?