Republicans are running out of time to make major legislative achievements before they break for their August recess — and President Trump’s 200th day in office later that month.
Congress will be in session for just 31 legislative days between now and the end of July, when the five-week recess begins.
Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE (R-Ky.) have both put more of an emphasis on the 200-day mark than Trump’s first 100 days.
The two want to show that Republican control of Washington is a status quo the voters should support as they make their case for next year’s midterm elections.
There’s still time for Republicans to make some gains.
Here are five areas where the GOP will look for progress this summer
Adopting a budget
Republicans frequently blasted Democrats when they controlled Congress for going years without adopting a budget.
Then they were unable to adopt a budget last year due to internal divisions about cutting spending, though the inaction didn’t hurt the GOP legislative agenda.
This time, failing to adopt a budget would imperil GOP hopes for passing tax reform through special budget rules that would prevent a Democratic filibuster.
Without a budget, in other words, the GOP may have to forget about a broad tax overhaul, a longtime dream of Ryan’s.
Figuring out a budget for next year will also have consequences for keeping the government funded after September.
Some Republicans want a bipartisan budget deal similar to those hammered out over the past four years, that would establish top-line spending levels for appropriations bills and raise the debt limit at the same time.
“We need that kind of agreement to provide budgetary stability,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee.
Raising the debt limit
Top Trump administration officials told Congress this week that lawmakers may have to approve a debt ceiling increase sooner than expected.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urged lawmakers to pass a “clean” debt ceiling hike with no strings attached before leaving for the summer break.
“I think it’s absolutely important that this is passed before the August recess and the sooner the better,” Mnuchin said before the House Ways and Means Committee.
Conservative groups want to tie spending restrictions to a debt bill. The conservative House Freedom Caucus announced this week that they would demand any debt hike be paired with spending cuts.
Striking a bipartisan deal to avoid a bruising debt limit fight would let GOP leaders demonstrate they can govern responsibly, as they did with the four-month spending package earlier this month. But a wide-ranging budget and debt limit deal would be a disappointment for conservatives hoping to get policy wins under unified GOP control of government.
“My concerns with the past years is that in a bipartisan fashion we’ve been kicking the road and adding to the debt substantially. That’s my concern with the past years. Going forward, when you win the House and the Senate and the White House, and you’re the small-government party, that’s my concern,” said Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a Freedom Caucus member.
Avoid a government shutdown
Congress is far behind where it normally is at this stage of the year in the annual appropriations process.
The House will enter June without having approved a single appropriations bill, and appropriators concede that there’s no time to pass each individual spending bill given other priorities.
“We can get the bills ready to get all 12 bills out of committee. The real question is, do you have the time to do them on the floor? Probably not. So you're going to have 'minibuses' or an omnibus,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told reporters.
At a minimum, Republicans need to show that they can keep the lights on while controlling Congress and the White House.
Government funding won’t run out until the end of September, but the GOP will want to start putting together a plan this summer.
In frustration over accepting this month’s spending compromise, Trump called for a “good shutdown” in September to fix the “mess” in Washington. But most Republicans in Congress want to avoid such a situation, believing they and Trump would get the blame for a shutdown.
Republicans can’t move a fiscal year 2018 budget, which they need for tax reform, until they finish work on a fiscal 2017 budget needed to repeal ObamaCare.
That means a tax reform vote in either chamber is still a long way off. But Republicans are eager to get moving.
The border adjustment tax proposal pushed by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to tax imports and exempt exports is withering in the face of opposition from conservative groups, retailers and fellow Republicans who warn it would increase prices on consumer goods.
Yet Republicans need to find some other way to pay for their tax reform proposal if they don’t want to add to the deficit.
“The border adjustable piece, I wish they would whip that to find out what the sense is. And if you don’t have the votes on it, then you got a trillion dollar hole that you gotta fill. And there’s ways to do that linked to the budget,” Brat said.
In the Senate, the GOP’s goal is to finish work on legislation repealing and replacing ObamaCare by the August recess.
Whether they can do it is anyone’s guess. There are severe differences among Republican senators over how to move forward, and McConnell has been careful about setting expectations.
GOP senators distanced themselves from a Congressional Budget Office analysis this week that predicted 23 million people would lose insurance over the next decade under the House bill. It also projected higher costs for older and sicker people.
Senate GOP staff will be drafting legislation during the Memorial Day recess, with a discussion draft possibly circulating when senators return.
There’s an added reason for the Senate GOP to move quickly.
It is using the same budget reconciliation rules to avoid a Democratic filibuster on healthcare that it intends to use on tax reform.
But it’s unclear how long the reconciliation vehicle for the healthcare bill will last.
The reconciliation measure is for fiscal 2017, and Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget senior adviser Ed Lorenzen noted that the Senate parliamentarian has not yet ruled if reconciliation instructions expire at the end of the fiscal year in September.
If the parliamentarian were to rule the 2017 vehicle expires in September, Republicans would have to either pass the healthcare measure quickly or try to move a bill the old-fashioned way, with Democratic votes.