GOP frets over too-high expectations

President Trump and GOP leaders on Capitol Hill have promised voters that 2017 will bring the repeal and replacement of ObamaCare, a long-awaited overhaul of the tax code and funding for a “great wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Now, some in the party are wondering whether Republicans have bitten off more than they can chew.

Conservative naysayers inside and outside the Capitol argue that it’s not just about the GOP-controlled Congress’s slow start in carrying out Trump’s agenda.

There’s serious concern that Trump and GOP leadership have simply identified too many big-ticket, politically thorny items to tackle in year one. They also see tough times ahead in prioritizing what to do.

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“It’s not just the fact that there are a lot of items but the enormity of those items,” said GOP Rep. Daniel Webster, who learned how to manage a legislative calendar while serving as Speaker of the Florida state House.

Another Republican lawmaker was even more blunt: “There’s no way we can do all these issues.”

The GOP’s 2017 calendar is already riddled with must-pass deadlines: Congress needs to fund the government before money runs out on April 28; raise the debt ceiling by this summer; and pass reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration by September, among other statutory deadlines.

Republicans also have begun dismantling a plethora of Obama-era regulations focused on the environment and other issues.

On top of that, Republicans hope to pass all 12 fiscal year 2018 appropriation bills before Oct. 1 — something that hasn’t been done in two decades.

Trump has talked of a $1 trillion infrastructure package — though conservatives on Capitol Hill have had heartburn over that proposal for some time.

“Think about it. We have two appropriations [processes] to do before Sept. 30, plus tax reform, the wall, infrastructure,” the GOP lawmaker said. “Any two would be Herculean."

“My idea that I’ve shared with a few people is we’ve got to prioritize these things,” he went on. “If you only get seven big things half-way down the road, that’s nothing … so you’ve got to prioritize.”

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAEI names Robert Doar as new president GOP can't excommunicate King and ignore Trump playing to white supremacy and racism House vote fails to quell storm surrounding Steve King MORE (R-Wis.) and his leadership team remain optimistic about the 2017 schedule, and they’re downplaying worries that the "go big, go bold" agenda Ryan coined a day after the election is overly ambitious.
 
Coordination with Trump and the White House, they said, has been improving after the rocky rollout of Trump’s controversial travel ban, which caught Hill leaders by surprise.

“House Republicans have rolled up our sleeves and are well underway in following through on our campaign commitments,” assured Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong.

Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.), a new member of leadership, called the agenda “doable” given Ryan’s strong commitment to the 200-day plan.

“We'll get it all done. These are all important priorities, and we don't have the luxury of scaling back,” added Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), who heads up the policy shop for House Republicans. “We're just going to have to walk and chew gum at the same time.”

How quickly and smoothly Republicans can pass legislation to repeal and replace President Obama’s complex healthcare law will significantly impact how the rest of the 2017 congressional calendar plays out.

Republicans have been pushing to repeal the Affordable Care Act since it was signed into law seven years ago. But they’re now all over the map on how to replace it, cautious about inflicting political damage on the party ahead of the 2018 midterms.

The House Freedom Caucus and their conservative allies are growing increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of repeal. And they say the entire 2017 agenda will remain stalled until ObamaCare is officially scrapped.

“It is an incredibly ambitious agenda, and it will be impossible to deliver on those promises until Obamacare repeal is signed into law,” said Dan Holler, a spokesman for the outside conservative group Heritage Action. “Repeal is understandably the first order of business, but the lack of legislative activity on repeal pushes back every other priority that members may have.

“They need to move on Obamacare repeal. Now.”

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the panels with jurisdiction over healthcare, is aiming to mark up its repeal bill on March 1, and other key committees are expected to follow similar timelines when it comes to their own markups.

At the recent GOP policy retreat in Philadelphia, Ryan said he planned to bring the entire reconciliation package — containing repeal and some replacement elements — to the House floor by the end of the “first quarter.” That budget reconciliation process would allow Republicans to push the plan through the Senate with a simple majority, rather than the usual 60 votes.

A second reconciliation bill would be used to pass tax reform before the August recess. And somewhere in between, during the March to April timeframe, Congress would need to approve $12 billion to $15 billion in extra spending to pay for the wall Trump vowed during the campaign to build along the southern border.

Leaders haven’t figured out how exactly they’ll pay for it, but Trump has insisted Mexico, one way or another, will end up reimbursing the U.S. for the huge cost.

Both the border wall and infrastructure have GOP critics worried the pricey Trump priorities will add to the nearly $20 trillion national debt.

“Congressional Republicans and the administration have laid out a number of spending priorities — they want to increase spending for infrastructure, defense, the wall. But they have not laid out a corresponding number of cuts in discretionary spending,” said Tim Phillips, president of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, who conceded that it's still early in the year.

Trump’s $1 trillion plan to fix the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges and airports also is an example of how priorities of the White House and Congress haven’t always aligned. When Ryan first briefed Trump on Congress’s 200-day legislative agenda, it made no mention of Trump’s infrastructure proposal.

The president promptly instructed Ryan to add it in.

Conservative Fox News host Sean Hannity is laying blame at the feet of Congress. Hill Republicans, he said this week, need to keep up with the frenetic pace set by the new president.

“The Republicans in Congress, do they need to speed things up, get a sense of urgency?” Hannity asked on his show. “In other words, do they need to keep up with the speed of the president? I think it’s time for them to get a good, quick kick in the backside.”

But it’s also fair to say that Trump-created distractions have slowed the GOP agenda as well.

Trump’s decision to sign an executive order halting refugees and banning travel from seven Muslim-majority nations without briefing congressional leaders set off confusion and mass protests at airports around the country. The travel ban sparked several legal challenges and dominated an entire week of Trump’s nascent presidency.

And Trump’s Twitter attacks on the media, senators, celebrities and companies like Nordstrom, as well as some heated phone calls with foreign leaders, have also kept Republicans in Washington on their toes.

“I’m focused on getting an agenda done. I’m focused on making Congress work,” Ryan said in an interview this week on "PBS NewsHour." “I’m focused on making good on our promises that we made.”

Peter Sullivan contributed.