Congress: There’s a load of work await­ing in au­tumn

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

WASH­ING­TON: Congress will have to prove its met­tle this fall. It has no choice. Re­pub­li­cans have lit­tle to show for their first seven months of con­trol­ling the White House and Capi­tol Hill. The Se­nate sent Jus­tice Neil Gor­such to the Supreme Court, and Congress passed bills bol­ster­ing vet­er­ans’ health pro­grams and fi­nanc­ing the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion. It ap­proved an­other sanc­tion­ing Rus­sia for its 2016 elec­tion med­dling, which Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump re­sent­fully signed know­ing Congress would lop­sid­edly over­ride a veto. Law­mak­ers re­turn­ing from re­cess af­ter Labor Day will con­front a pile of bills they must ap­prove. They’ll also face an­other stack of work they’ve promised to tackle and that GOP vot­ers elected them to achieve.

Re­pub­li­cans are in charge

No mat­ter how true that state­ment might be, they still have to prove they can de­liver their promised agenda or ac­com­plish the ba­sics of gov­ern­ing. Con­gres­sional lead­ers rec­og­nize this risks blow­back in next year’s midterm elec­tions. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis, told a dis­pleased voter in Muk­won­ago, Wis­con­sin, last week, “We’ve got to get it done.” Septem­ber will give Re­pub­li­cans a chance to com­plete their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties with min­i­mal fuss. If they de­liver a tax cut, GOP think­ing goes, much will be for­given.

Two must-do items will dom­i­nate Congress’ Septem­ber agenda: in­creas­ing the gov­ern­ment’s debt limit to pre­vent a jar­ring fed­eral de­fault and pass­ing a tem­po­rary spend­ing bill to avert a gov­ern­ment shut­down. Many Re­pub­li­cans can’t bring them­selves to back a debt limit boost. But they run the gov­ern­ment, and it’s their re­spon­si­bil­ity to de­liver those votes. Demo­cratic sup­port will be re­quired, and some hope they’ll win con­ces­sions in ex­change. A stop­gap mea­sure will be needed be­cause the 12 an­nual spend­ing bills are be­hind sched­ule. There’s no agree­ment on their over­all price tag, which will be in the $1 tril­lion-plus range. One wild card is whether Trump will press to fund the US-Mex­ico bor­der wall he’s pledged. That could spark a nasty con­fronta­tion with Democrats.

The White House and Re­pub­li­cans prom­ise to re­vamp the loop­hole-choked tax code and lower rates for cor­po­ra­tions and in­di­vid­u­als. Along with re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care law, this is holy grail for the GOP. But core prin­ci­ples re­main un­re­solved, in­clud­ing whether the ef­fort would fur­ther bloat the bud­get deficit. Cru­cial de­tails must be set­tled, among them how far to lower rates and which tax cred­its and de­duc­tions would be erased. The last time those prob­lems were rec­on­ciled and the tax code broadly re­shaped was 1986.

Health care

The GOP’s sig­na­ture dis­as­ter so far this year was the Se­nate’s July re­jec­tion of at­tempts by Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., to erad­i­cate Obama’s health care law. Repub­li­can di­vi­sions proved fa­tal, and they’re split over what comes next. Trump has goaded McCon­nell to keep try­ing. Se­nate lead­ers have shown lit­tle en­thu­si­asm for charg­ing back up that hill with­out the votes to pass some­thing. “We’ve piv­oted to tax re­form and I think we’ve got to stay on that,” Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee Chair­man Or­rin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a brief in­ter­view Fri­day.

Health com­mit­tee Chair­man La­mar Alexan­der, R-Tenn., says he’ll work with the panel’s top Demo­crat, Patty Mur­ray of Wash­ing­ton state, to con­tinue bil­lions in pay­ments to in­sur­ers for re­duc­ing out-of-pocket costs for low- and mid­dle-in­come cus­tomers. In ex­change, Alexan­der wants to re­lax cov­er­age re­quire­ments that pro­tect con­sumers un­der Obama’s law. It’s un­clear the par­ties can reach com­pro­mise. The Se­nate aims to ap­prove the an­nual de­fense pol­icy bill in Septem­ber. That’s when Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man John McCain, R-Ariz., ex­pects to re­turn to Wash­ing­ton af­ter start­ing brain can­cer treat­ment. He and McCon­nell wanted to pass the bill last month, but Sen Rand Paul, R-Ky, thwarted that plan. Paul wants votes on amend­ments on in­def­i­nite de­ten­tion and war au­tho­riza­tion.

WASH­ING­TON: Ron­nie Pfeif­fer, a plumber with the Ar­chi­tect of the Capi­tol, spreads chlo­rine pel­lets in the re­flect­ing pool in Lower Se­nate Park on Capi­tol Hill to de­ter al­gae growth fol­low­ing re­cent heavy rains. — AP

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