Trump scramble to rack up accomplishments gives conservatives heartburn

President TrumpDonald John TrumpWith VP pick, Biden can't play small ball in a long ball world Coronavirus hits defense contractor jobs Wake up America, your country doesn't value your life 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 PelosiSunday shows preview: Lawmakers, state governors talk coronavirus, stimulus package and resources as pandemic rages on Attacking the Affordable Care Act in the time of COVID-19 DC argues it is shortchanged by coronavirus relief bill MORE (D-Calif.) during meetings with the administration’s top trade official, Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerGOP senator warns quick vote on new NAFTA would be 'huge mistake' Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 Pelosi sounds hopeful on new NAFTA deal despite tensions with White House 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 AlexanderSticking points force stimulus package talks to spill into Sunday GOP drafting stimulus package without deal with Democrats Senate coronavirus stimulus talks spill into Saturday 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 ToomeyNSA improperly collected US phone records in October, new documents show Overnight Defense: Pick for South Korean envoy splits with Trump on nuclear threat | McCain blasts move to suspend Korean military exercises | White House defends Trump salute of North Korean general WH backpedals on Trump's 'due process' remark on guns 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 ThuneTrump's magical thinking won't stop the coronavirus pandemic Lawmakers brace for more coronavirus legislation after trillion bill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - Senate overcomes hurdles, passes massive coronavirus bill 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 CornynLawmakers already planning more coronavirus stimulus after T package Cuban says he'd spank daughter if she was partying during coronavirus pandemic Twitter comes under fire over Chinese disinformation on coronavirus 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 InhofeGOP senators urge Saudi Arabia to leave OPEC Overnight Defense: Stimulus bill has .5B for Pentagon | Money would be blocked from border wall | Esper orders 60-day freeze for overseas troop movements Senate panel switches to 'paper hearings' amid coronavirus pandemic 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 JohnsonCoronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner GOP seeks up to 0 billion to maximize financial help to airlines, other impacted industries Dr. Rand Paul's prescription for combating the coronavirus crisis 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.”