Frus­tra­tion builds over slow-mov­ing Congress

Sweep­ing agenda promised by GOP, pres­i­dent has stalled.

Dayton Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - By Jes­sica Wehrman

Repub­li­cans WASHINGTON — be­gan this Congress in Jan­uary with a sweep­ing leg­isla­tive agenda

re­peal the 2010 health care — law, re­form the tax code, pass an in­fra­struc­ture bill.

Nearly eight months later, the list of ac­com­plish­ments is less wide-rang­ing.

While the House passed a health care bill in May, the Se­nate has strug­gled to fol­low suit. Tax re­form has not moved, though some say they’re still hope­ful.

In­fra­struc­ture, too, is in a leg­isla­tive pur­ga­tory. And that wall that Pres­i­dent

Don­ald Trump promised dur­ing the cam­paign? The pres­i­dent last week said a full bor­der wall isn’t nec­es­sary.

Then there’s the nuts-and-bolts stuff: Congress has yet to pass a bud­get, and gov­ern­ment fund­ing ex­pires in Septem­ber. Nei­ther house of Congress has passed any of the 12 ap­pro­pri­a­tions bills Congress is sup­posed to pass each year. An in­crease in the debt limit, needed to keep the gov­ern­ment run­ning, awaits

an­other vote. And the Se­nate still faces a laun­dry list of nom­ina

tions that it must con­firm.

The to-do list is so lengthy Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell threw up his hands last week and de­layed the body’s tra­di­tional Au­gust re­cess for two weeks. In the House, mem­bers of the con­ser­va­tive Free­dom Cau­cus are call­ing for a sim­i­lar de­lay.

Per­fect year

On the sur­face, this year ap­peared to of­fer the per­fect set of cir­cum­stances for Repub­li­cans to en­act their leg­isla­tive agenda: They carry ma­jori­ties in the House and Se­nate and oc­cupy the White House.

But Sarah Bin­der, a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Ge­orge Washington Univer­sity, said the out­look isn’t so rosy if you look between the lines.

For one thing, the ma­jori­ties are slim and frac­tious: The di­vide between con­ser­va­tive and mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans is sharp. For an­other, Trump has not en­joyed the polling sup­port in the early months that his re­cent pre­de­ces­sors have — a fact that makes it harder for rank-and­file law­mak­ers to take risky votes.

And Trump’s rhetoric isn’t al­ways help­ful, Bin­der said. While he cel­e­brated the House health care bill pas­sage with a Rose Gar­den cer­e­mony at the White House, he later told the Se­nate that that bill was “mean,” in­di­cat­ing he didn’t sup­port that bill af­ter all. His shoot-fromthe-hip style is far from pre­dictable, she said.

“They don’t know where he’s go­ing to be” on some is­sues, she said.

The lack of progress has been mad­den­ing for law­mak­ers.

“Should we re­ally go home for Au­gust and not have a tax bill to talk to the Amer­i­can peo­ple about?” said Rep. Jim Jor­dan, R-Ur­bana, a mem­ber of the Free­dom Cau­cus. He said he was “frus­trated” that Congress didn’t im­me­di­ately pass a clean re­peal of the 2010 health care law signed by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama back when the year be­gan.

Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Up­per Ar­ling­ton, ad­mits progress is “a lit­tle slower than ex­pected” but said the House is on track to pass more bills than any Congress since the Tru­man ad­min­is­tra­tion. He said he still be­lieves that Congress will pass a health care bill and a tax re­form bill.

“It’s not like we’re not do­ing any­thing,’ he said, “but the big things vot­ers wanted and I want to get done are not done yet.”

Ahead of sched­ule?

For his part, House Speaker Paul Ryan said the bud­get process is ac­tu­ally mov­ing smoothly, con­sid­er­ing the late start that typ­i­cally oc­curs dur­ing the first year of a new pres­i­dency.

“We’re ac­tu­ally well ahead of sched­ule,” he said.

If the Se­nate passes its new health care bill, “we’ll stay and fin­ish the health care bill” dur­ing their Au­gust re­cess, Ryan said.

Bin­der said the in­abil­ity to act quickly on the ma­jor cam­paign prom­ises is at odds with re­cent first term pres­i­dents who en­joyed sameparty ma­jori­ties. Ge­orge W. Bush man­aged to pass tax cuts by June. Barack Obama passed the Lilly Led­bet­ter Fair Pay Act, which ad­dressed pay eq­uity for women, in Jan­uary.

Part of their suc­cess was be­cause the leg­isla­tive wins were set up well be­fore they took the oath of of­fice. Bush had ve­toed the Lilly Led­bet­ter Act, and Democrats were poised to seize on that is­sue by the time Obama took of­fice.

“There’s a pat­tern that shows up of­ten when unified par­ties come un­der con­trol,” Bin­der said. “They take up what had been stale­mated dur­ing past Con­gresses.”

Sen. Sher­rod Brown, D-Ohio, said he’s “fine” stay­ing well into the Au­gust re­cess, but said it would be eas­ier to move for­ward leg­isla­tively if Repub­li­cans worked with Democrats. He’s highly crit­i­cal of how McCon­nell drafted the health care bill, say­ing it oc­curred “be­hind closed doors” and with lit­tle in­put even from fel­low Repub­li­cans.

“Repub­li­cans don’t like it ei­ther,” he said, adding, “we’re not pro­duc­ing any­thing as a re­sult.”

Others say that it’s not too late for Congress to be­gin knock­ing off the items on their to-do list.

“It’s too soon to say, ‘oh, well, Congress has been un­pro­duc­tive,” said Kyle Kondik of the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia Cen­ter for Pol­i­tics. “There’s still a ways to go.”

AL DRAGO / THE NEW YORK TIMES

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., has de­layed the Se­nate’s Au­gust re­cess by two weeks.

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