Trump’s surprise deal shakes up fall agenda
President Trump’s surprise deal with Democrats postponing a fight over spending and the debt limit until December has rearranged the fall agenda, sources from both parties say.
Lawmakers had expected to fight over fiscal issues right up until the end of September, but now the schedule for the month is surprisingly clear.
Republicans on Wednesday touted the development as something that would allow them to tackle tax reform — one of Trump’s top legislative priorities — sooner rather than later.
“This basically kicks the can down the road for three months but does give us time to try to make the case for tax reform,” Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas) said Wednesday.
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters told reporters aboard Air Force One shortly after Trump’s meeting with Democrats that the president wanted to clear the deck for tax reform.
“Pushing this three months allows us to focus on tax reforms and those other issues that are important right now,” she said.
Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, told reporters on Air Force One that Trump is still committed to lowering the corporate tax rate to 15 percent, an ambitious undertaking that will require heavy lifting on Capitol Hill.
Tax lobbyists and Wall Street analysts had been skeptical that tax reform could pass this year, mainly because there was so little time left on the legislative calendar.
Returning from the August recess, lawmakers were facing a fight over a stopgap spending measure and the debt limit with only 12 legislative days scheduled for September, a Columbus Day recess planned for October and the Thanksgiving recess in November.
Now lawmakers have more breathing room.
Even so, Wednesday’s announcement caught Republicans by surprise.
Shortly before Trump’s meeting at the White House with GOP and Democratic leaders, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called the proposal floated by Democrats for a short-term debt limit increase “ridiculous.”
Lawmakers have differences of opinions about what the deal means for immigration.
Various senators are in active talks about moving forward on the thorny issue after Trump announced Tuesday that he would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which protects people who came to the country illegally as children from being deported.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the co-author of comprehensive immigration reform that passed the Senate in 2013, says he would like to put together a similar coalition now.
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), who negotiated the 2013 Senate immigration bill with McCain, said he’s eager to sit down with McCain and other Republicans to negotiate.
But other Republicans aren’t optimistic about passing immigration legislation before the end of the year. GOP leaders plan to put the focus on tax reform over the next two months before turning to the fiscal debate that Trump and Democratic leaders agreed to postpone until December.
“I don’t see the House and the Senate having the time to do a comprehensive immigration bill within the next six months,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).
Lawmakers say it will be difficult if not impossible to pass the DREAM Act or similar legislation for DACA recipients unless it’s paired with border security and immigration enforcement measures.
“In order to get a good, strong bipartisan vote, it would have to ride with some border security measures,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.), who added that Republicans would be interested in implementing an e-verify program to police the hiring of undocumented immigrants.
Given the focus on tax reform in the short term and the looming fight in December over a yearlong omnibus spending bill and a debt-limit increase, lawmakers speculate that Trump or Congress could wind up postponing the termination of the DACA program to buy more time to deal with the issue.
Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), who was elected in 2014 as an outspoken critic of comprehensive immigration reform, predicted that Congress would “kick the can down the road” on DACA with a “cynical little show vote” and “duck the issues” underpinning the controversy over immigration, namely labor and economic issues.
Some talk emerged Wednesday that by punting on the spending and debt-limit fights, Republicans might have time to take another shot at repealing and replacing ObamaCare.
McCain, who cast the decisive vote against a pared-down ObamaCare repeal bill that failed in the Senate in July, said Wednesday he would support legislation sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) to change Medicaid.
McCain later issued a statement qualifying his earlier interview with reporters, saying he would want to review the legislation and its impact on Arizona before making a final decision.
The White House has talked up that legislation, with counselor Kellyanne Conway this week saying Trump would sign the bill if it reached his desk.
If GOP leaders replace the so-called skinny ObamaCare repeal bill they tried to advance to bicameral conference negotiations with the Graham-Cassidy bill, they might have enough votes to produce a new bill in talks with House Republicans.
But that step could prove costly by taking more time away from the tax debate, with no guarantee of success.
Collins, who also voted against the Senate’s last-ditch ObamaCare repeal strategy earlier this summer, said the momentum of the health-care debate has shifted to hearings that Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) is overseeing in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
Those hearings are focused on finding a bipartisan path to shore up the individual health insurance markets under ObamaCare.
“I see the action happening in the HELP Committee, and the fact is that we’re going to have four hearings and by the end of next week I think you’ll see the outlines of a bill emerging from the committee,” Collins, a member of the committee, said.
Jordan Fabian contributed.
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