Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick MORE’s race to rack up accomplishments heading into an election year is giving conservatives heartburn, with some worried he is striking deals that include giveaways to Democrats. 

Several Senate Republicans this week vented their frustration with Trump’s trade deal with Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' Overnight Health Care: New wave of COVID-19 cases builds in US | Florida to lift all coronavirus restrictions on restaurants, bars | Trump stirs questions with 0 drug coupon plan Overnight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds MORE (D-Calif.) during meetings with the administration’s top trade official, Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerWhiskey, workers and friends caught in the trade dispute crossfire GOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 MORE.

There’s also grumbling among conservative lawmakers over an agreement to expand benefits for federal workers in exchange for a costly Space Force military branch and a spending deal that is projected to add nearly $2 trillion to the deficit.

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The year-end deal-making isn’t necessarily over. Negotiators are circling around a tax deal that would include an extension of earned income tax credits for low-income families who don’t pay federal taxes, a benefit typically unpopular with conservatives.

Another candidate for inclusion in the omnibus package is a bipartisan proposal backed by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderPelosi urges early voting to counter GOP's high court gambit: 'There has to be a price to pay' Graham: GOP has votes to confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Washington on edge amid SCOTUS vacancy MORE (R-Tenn.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) to rein in the costs of prescription drugs.

Some GOP lawmakers warn that regulating drug prices could have unintended consequences for the marketplace and medical innovation.

For veteran Republican lawmakers, the flurry of deal-making calls to mind former President George W. Bush’s efforts to stock up on legislative accomplishments before his 2004 reelection bid, the most notable of which was the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act — at the time the biggest entitlement expansion since the creation of Medicare in 1965.

“The deals are horrible. They’re bad deals,” said Brian Darling, a GOP strategist and former Senate aide. “This always happens at the end of a Congress. It’s typical of what’s happened in Congress over the years, where they wait until the end of the year, cut big deals on must-pass bills like the National Defense Authorization Act. Everything gets loaded into these bills, and nobody likes them.”

“Paid family leave is a precedent. That’s going to be used as a talking point to get paid family leave for people in the private sector, which many companies are nervous about,” he predicted.

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One Republican senator said he and other GOP lawmakers are unsettled by Trump’s eagerness to cut deals with Democrats in recent weeks and make big concessions in order to avoid entering an election year without a solid list of legislative accomplishments. 

A second Republican senator said Trump is transforming a party that over the last three years has become more associated with the president than the pro-free trade and fiscally conservative principles that defined the GOP since the Reagan years.

“It’s the party of Trump. People back home are Trump supporters. What’s the Venn diagram? What’s the Trump support? What’s the traditional Republican group? Where’s overlap of any?” asked the senator, who noted that the most important litmus tests for conservative principles has become where a lawmaker stands on impeachment.

Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyAppeals court rules NSA's bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel GOP senators push for quick, partial reopening of economy MORE (R-Pa.), one of the party’s leading free trade advocates, panned the trade deal announced this week for making “large-scale capitulation to their demands,” referring to Pelosi and her allies.

The deal scraps the investor-state dispute settlement program that is designed primarily to protect U.S. investors from what they see as the discriminatory regulatory practices of trading partners and eliminates intellectual property protection for makers of biologic drugs, a major revenue source for the pharmaceutical industry.

Pelosi later crowed to Democratic lawmakers, “We ate their lunch.”

Senate Republicans asked Lighthizer at a meeting on Thursday why the administration didn’t submit the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal to Congress for approval at the end of 2018, when Republicans still controlled the House. The U.S. trade representative explained the paperwork wasn’t ready, but his answer didn’t satisfy the critics.

GOP lawmakers were frustrated that Trump’s trade team cut them out of the final negotiations, leaving them with a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum on final passage.

Senate Majority Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneHouse to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power Trump dumbfounds GOP with latest unforced error Senate passes resolution reaffirming commitment to peaceful transition of power MORE (R-S.D.) said, “Our members are concerned that it’s moved significantly to the left during the negotiation process.” 

“I would not call this a perfect product,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynHillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close Lawmakers introduce legislation to boost cybersecurity of local governments, small businesses On The Trail: Making sense of this week's polling tsunami MORE (R-Texas) said of the deal. “I’m not happy with the way this was handled, and I don’t want this to be a precedent for future trade agreements.” 

A substantial number of Senate Republicans weren’t enthused either by Trump’s decision to give Democrats another big concession in the National Defense Authorization Act by agreeing to 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal workers. The provision, which costs $3.3 billion over five years, was not offset by spending cuts.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds Democrats push to limit transfer of military-grade gear to police Chamber of Commerce endorses McSally for reelection MORE (R-Okla.) said he initially opposed the proposal to create a Space Force, arguing the Air Force was sufficient.

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“He wanted to get his Space Force. That’s the one thing he had to have,” Inhofe said of the president. “I really wasn’t all that excited about it in the beginning. My feeling at that time was we were doing a good job.”

Inhofe noted there was “quite a bit” of pushback from fellow Republicans to giving federal workers a generous new benefit.

“That’s the one thing they didn’t like,” he said.

Thune said that while some members of the GOP conference wanted to expand benefits for federal workers, many did not.

“We have members who, I think, are probably supportive of what was done on that issue on the bill and some who aren’t,” he said. “It’s a mixed bag.”

Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Ginsburg lies in repose CHC leaders urge Senate to oppose Chad Wolf nomination  MORE (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which has jurisdiction over the federal workforce, objected to adding the new benefit but was overruled. 

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“Paid parental leave, I’m not sure anybody’s ever held a hearing on that. Certainly my committee never held a hearing. We don’t know the full ramifications of this,” he said.

“I’m not sure how popular it’s going to be back in Wisconsin, the fact that people pay their taxes so that privileged federal workers get paid parental leave,” he said. 

Johnson said the concern over the family leave benefit was part of broader anxiety that the party is walking away from its traditional role of espousing fiscal restraint. 

“How about trillion-dollar deficits? I’m not happy,” he said. “I find it incredibly frustrating the other side says in addition to additional deficit spending to rebuild the military, let’s go on a spending spree on the domestic side too.”

“Paid parental leave didn’t get paid for,” Johnson added. “At a minimum, I would have liked to have seen, ‘OK, Democrats, if you want this $3.3 billion package at least reduce your spending by that amount.”