Congressional GOP struggles for a win as recess looms


No healthcare overhaul. No tax reform. No infrastructure package. No budget. No government funding bill. 

It’s now entirely possible that congressional Republicans will depart for the long August recess without sending a single major piece of legislation to President Trump’s desk.

After the GOP’s plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare stalled in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he’d call a vote this week on a straight repeal bill. But the GOP defections are piling up and few see a viable path for full repeal.

{mosads}Across the Capitol, House Republicans are facing a defining challenge of their own as they struggle to round up the votes for a fiscal 2018 budget resolution that leaders say is needed to pave the way for tax reform. 

Their push to vote on a 12-bill omnibus to fund the entire federal government before the summer recess has also sputtered. Instead, Republicans will vote on a scaled-back, security-focused “minibus,” though skeptical appropriators warn that it will be ignored by the Senate, requiring another dreaded short-term stopgap measure in September to avert a shutdown.

During the first six months of the new unified GOP government, Congress has sent just a handful of small-bore bills to Trump’s desk: legislation rolling back a slew of Obama-era environmental and other regulations, making it easier to discipline or fire Veterans Affairs Department employees and protecting the nation’s food and agriculture systems against terrorism. 

House Republicans have passed several other significant pieces of legislation — bills gutting the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law, cracking down on illegal immigration and repealing and replacing ObamaCare. But those have gone nowhere in the Senate, where Republicans hold a fragile 52-48 majority and face the constant threat of a Democratic filibuster.

The lack of progress with the GOP’s legislative agenda has led to plenty of intraparty squabbling and finger-pointing between House and Senate Republicans. McConnell has postponed the Senate’s recess until the third week of August, but it’s unclear whether that delay will flip any of the no votes.

“Frustration is a good word. But at the end of the day, inaction is just not sustainable,” Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), a Trump supporter and 2018 Democratic target, said of Senate Republicans. “At some point in time they will have to do something.”

Other House Republicans, however, argued that voters, constituents and conservative activists back home won’t have much sympathy for lawmakers who blame the other chamber — especially now that Republicans are in control of the White House, House and Senate for the first time in a decade. 

“Pointing the finger at somebody else for the blame is not going to work, whether it’s the Senate or anybody else,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “If we don’t have ObamaCare repeal done, it makes it very difficult to run home and say, ‘Look at what we’ve accomplished.’”

A reporter rattled off a list of things the House GOP is unlikely to accomplish before the recess: ObamaCare repeal, a tax-reform blueprint, a full government spending package, a budget.

“You can quit with your list, OK?” Meadows interjected, joking that the reporter was a “downer.”  

{mosads}House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who helped usher the repeal-and-replace bill through the House, agreed with Meadows: Republicans desperately need headline-grabbing wins even as they continue to accumulate small victories by rolling back financial and environmental regulations. 

“We have to deliver. We have to deliver. Our base elected us to deliver,” said Walden, who led the House GOP’s campaign arm for two successful cycles.

“The voters of America elected this president and this Congress to deliver on an agenda to scale back overreach and regulation, and then to work on creating jobs.” 

The House adjourns for its monthlong recess at the end of the week, so GOP leaders are hoping to notch a couple of victories before the break. But several GOP lawmakers and aides told The Hill they are doubtful there are the 218 Republican votes needed to pass a budget resolution on the House floor.

While House Budget Committee Chairwoman Diane Black (R-Tenn.) shepherded the budget blueprint through her committee with a unanimous GOP vote, Freedom Caucus leaders are demanding hundreds of billions more in mandatory spending cuts.

The disagreements mean 2017 could be a repeat of 2016, when House Republicans advanced their budget out of committee but never brought it to the floor. Doing the same this year would result in much more dire consequences: Without a budget, Republicans could not overhaul the tax code through a special process known as reconciliation. That process would allow Senate Republicans to pass tax reform with a simple majority rather than the usual 60-vote threshold.

The other issue House Republicans want to tackle before recess is a security package of four bills funding defense, military construction and the Department of  Veterans Affairs, the legislative branch, and energy and water programs. It includes a $1.6 billion down payment for Trump’s wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The package will likely will clear the lower chamber. But one senior appropriator, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), predicted the Senate wouldn’t hold a vote on the security minibus, putting appropriators back at square one.

“My inclination is the Senate doesn’t take it up absent a broader budget agreement,” said Dent, adding that a continuing resolution would probably be needed to avert a government shutdown set for the beginning of the new fiscal year, Oct. 1. 

Cristina Marcos contributed.

Tags Diane Black Mitch McConnell

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