As the House and Senate head back to Capitol Hill for the final weeks of 2017, the legislative to-do list is long for lawmakers in the Congress, but there really is only one main priority for Republicans and President Donald Trump, and that is getting a sweeping GOP tax reform package through the House and Senate – and have it signed into law by the end of the year.
“The Tax Cut Bill is getting better and better,” the President tweeted on Sunday night; he’ll meet with Congressional leaders this week as they try to figure out how to get the bill across the finish line by Christmas.
Here’s where things stand on Capitol Hill:
1. The GOP tax bill isn’t ready for a Senate vote – yet. While a key Senate committee approved a version of the tax bill before Senators went home for a Thanksgiving break, it is obvious that changes will have to be made to the details before it can be ready for debate on the Senate floor, as a variety of GOP Senators have raised red flags about the fine print. Some like Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) have raised questions about how the bill would raise the deficit. Others like Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) want changes on how personal deductions would be limited. Maybe the most important changes might come from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), who has been pushing for new language on how small businesses are treated, what are known as “pass-through businesses.” Before Thanksgiving, Johnson made clear that he was ready to vote against the GOP bill unless there were changes – now that needs to be finalized before the Senate votes.
2. Not much talk about a government shutdown in December. A few months ago, I was thinking that we might have a big time showdown in December, when a temporary spending bill runs out to fund the operations of Uncle Sam. President Trump has made clear he wants money for the border wall, and this seemed like his only point of leverage in the calendar year. But as I said above – the tax bill is THE priority for the GOP – and the idea of shutting down the government in the next few weeks seems to be rather remote. Yes, that could still change, but it would be a big surprise. The main question is whether you push through a giant ‘Omnibus’ spending plan before Christmas, or wait until the New Year to get all that budgetary work done. There are lots of people who want to make that bill into a giant legislative Christmas tree, and add in provisions on DACA and much more. How convenient! This year’s tree arrives from Montana on Monday.
3. Another round of hurricane disaster relief. As mentioned above, there will be a big push in Congress to get a lot of things done before the end of the year, and one item on the list will be billions more in disaster relief for those hit by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, along with help for communities ravaged by wildfires in California. Before Thanksgiving, the White House asked Congress for $44 billion in aid, far below what the states of Texas and Florida have requested, and not even half of what Puerto Rico’s Governor asked for to deal with damage on that island. When you add up the first two bills, plus this third proposal, you are almost to $100 billion – and everyone agrees much more is needed. We’ll see if Senators from Florida and Texas can produce more aid in time for the holidays.
4. Ethics panels eye sexual misconduct matters. While the tax and spending fight will play out for all to see in coming weeks, behind closed doors, the House and Senate ethics committees are expected to take some first steps to review questions about two Democrats, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI). On Sunday – after calling Conyers an “icon” in a Sunday morning TV show appearance – House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi then made Conyers step aside as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, while a review is underway. “Zero tolerance means consequences,” Pelosi said in a written statement. “I have asked for an ethics investigation, and as that investigation continues, Congressman Conyers has agreed to step aside as Ranking Member.” It’s not clear what’s next for Franken, as he too, faces an ethics review. And obviously, we wonder if more stories are out there.
5. Roy Moore all but endorsed by President Trump. While a number of prominent Republicans in the U.S. Senate have said they want no part of Alabama GOP Senate nominee Roy Moore, President Trump certainly isn’t in that category. “The last thing we need in Alabama and the U.S. Senate is a Schumer/Pelosi puppet,” the President tweeted out on Sunday. Mr. Trump never mentioned Roy Moore by name, but made clear that the President’s preference is not to elect a Democrat on December 12 in the Yellowhammer State. “Can't let Schumer/Pelosi win this race. Liberal Jones would be BAD!” Mr. Trump said of the Democratic nominee, former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones. If Jones wins, what awaits him in the Senate? It would be interesting to say the least, as a number of GOP Senators aren’t ready to put out the welcome mat for him.