Hill Repub­li­cans of the block-ev­ery­thing era may strug­gle to fol­low the lead­ers

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - @PKCapi­tol PAUL KANE paul.kane@wash­post.com

The last time a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent and Repub­li­can Congress passed a tax cut, in 2003, Pe­ter J. Roskam was serv­ing in the Illi­nois state Se­nate.

The last time a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent and Repub­li­can Congress over­hauled fed­eral health pol­icy, also in 2003, when pre­scrip­tion drug cov­er­age was added to Medi­care, Michael C. Burgess was serv­ing his first year in the House.

Flash for­ward 14 years, and now those two law­mak­ers, Reps. Roskam (R-Ill.) and Burgess (RTex.), are se­nior mem­bers of the in­flu­en­tial com­mit­tees try­ing to over­haul tax and health pol­icy with a new Repub­li­can pres­i­dent and a GOP-con­trolled Congress.

Across the Capi­tol, there’s a new gen­er­a­tion of Repub­li­cans who have risen to power since the GOP last at­tempted to en­act a sweep­ing agenda that would over­haul big pieces of the econ­omy such as the health-care and tax sys­tems. Quite sim­ply, there aren’t many Repub­li­cans around with mus­cle mem­ory of what it’s like to craft large pieces of leg­is­la­tion that rely al­most en­tirely on votes from their side of the aisle.

The prob­lem is par­tic­u­larly acute in the House, where 60 Repub­li­cans — a quar­ter of their cau­cus — have ever served in the ma­jor­ity with a GOP pres­i­dent.

More­over, more than 160 House Repub­li­cans are get­ting their first taste of work­ing with a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent. Their en­tire leg­isla­tive ca­reers un­til now have been ded­i­cated to stop­ping an ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­tions.

Some GOP el­der states­men are wor­ried this block-ev­ery­thing men­tal­ity is still the mind-set dom­i­nat­ing sev­eral dozen Repub­li­cans.

“They’ve got to get in line,” Trent Lott (R-Miss.), a former Se­nate ma­jor­ity leader, said in an in­ter­view. The former sen­a­tor said some con­ser­va­tives who are threat­en­ing to hold up the emerg­ing health and tax bills do not un­der­stand the dif­fer­ence be­tween con­trol­ling Congress alone and hav­ing both Congress and the White House.

“[The GOP lead­er­ship is] go­ing to have to be pre­pared to crush that,” he said.

It’s not just a prob­lem in the House. Over in the Se­nate, a trio of next-gen­er­a­tion Repub­li­cans — Ted Cruz (Tex.), Mike Lee (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.) — are threat­en­ing to block the emerg­ing House bill to re­peal the Af­ford­able Care Act. They don’t like a pro­posed tax credit it con­tains, view­ing it as a new en­ti­tle­ment.

The trick for House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell (R-Ky.) is to con­vince th­ese younger Repub­li­cans that while they might not get ev­ery­thing they want in the big health-care and tax over­hauls, they have been handed a golden op­por­tu­nity to pass what is by all mea­sures a very con­ser­va­tive agenda. GOP aides noted they wouldn’t be averse to a tweet from Pres­i­dent Trump back­ing the Hill lead­er­ship’s agenda.

Both Repub­li­can lead­ers want to pass a health-care over­haul in early April be­fore Congress leaves town on a two-week spring break.

There is an ex­am­ple from 2001 of how things could work, Lott re­called, point­ing to Ge­orge W. Bush’s first year in of­fice, when the Se­nate was split 50-50 and the ma­jor­ity hinged on Vice Pres­i­dent Richard B. Cheney’s tiebreak­ing vote.

Repub­li­cans had agreed to a mas­sive $1.3 tril­lion tax cut, but mod­er­ate Se­nate Repub­li­cans de­manded more funds for spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion. House con­ser­va­tives op­posed the ad­di­tional money, but that was the price they had to pay to get the big­ger is­sue to Bush’s desk for his sig­na­ture.

“We man­aged to make it work,” Lott said.

To­day’s Se­nate does have sev­eral sea­soned hands in­volved in the cur­rent leg­isla­tive fights, par­tic­u­larly Sen. La­mar Alexan­der (R-Tenn.), a former gov­er­nor and proven deal­maker. In ad­di­tion, Sen. Or­rin G. Hatch (R-Utah) has been in of­fice more than 40 years and is now chair­ing his third panel, the Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, with over­sight of health and tax mat­ters.

But in the House, Reps. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.) have a com­bined to­tal of 18 months, re­spec­tively, chair­ing the Ways and Means and En­ergy and Com­merce com­mit­tees. They are in charge of writ­ing the House ver­sions of the tax and health bills.

Roskam is chair­man of the tax sub­com­mit­tee at Ways and Means, and Burgess chairs the health sub­com­mit­tee at En­ergy and Com­merce. Both are in their first year run­ning those key pol­icy venues.

Sen. Patty Mur­ray (D-Wash.), the most pro­lific Demo­cratic leg­is­la­tor of the past five years, won­ders whether any House Repub­li­can be­yond Ryan has the stature to make the deals.

“It doesn’t just hap­pen be­cause you de­cide to write some­thing on a wall and put it on a piece of pa­per,” Mur­ray said. “It’s called catch­ing the car if you’re the dog. Say­ing some­thing as a cam­paign slo­gan is easy.”

In 2013 Mur­ray and Ryan, then the chair­men of the Se­nate and House bud­get com­mit­tees, crafted a com­pro­mise fed­eral-spend­ing out­line that vir­tu­ally guar­an­teed no gov­ern­ment-shut­down stand­offs for two years. The easy part, Mur­ray said, was draw­ing up the pol­icy. Then they had to sell it.

“It wasn’t just go­ing in a room and write it,” she said. “We had to ac­tu­ally go and talk to peo­ple, work it, make sure we had the votes from each side. It was a lot of work.”

Even when Repub­li­cans have the most ex­pe­ri­enced leg­is­la­tors, get­ting big things done can still be dif­fi­cult. In 2003, Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), a 25-year vet­eran at the time, chaired the Ways and Means Com­mit­tee and had to fight, scrap and claw the Medi­care bill to fi­nal pas­sage.

The vote, be­gin­ning about 3 a.m. in late Novem­ber, was held open nearly three hours be­fore the last hold­outs came around, for a fi­nal vote to­tal of 220 to 215.

There were 25 Repub­li­cans who bucked their lead­ers and the White House, in­clud­ing a sec­ondterm con­gress­man from In­di­ana, Mike Pence. The leg­is­la­tion passed only be­cause 16 Democrats voted with Thomas.

To­day, Ryan — who voted for the 2003 bill — is not ex­pect­ing a sin­gle vote from the Democrats to re­peal the ACA. If 25 Repub­li­cans take the route that Pence, the fu­ture vice pres­i­dent, took in 2003, the leg­is­la­tion will fail.

Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is now stocked with four House Repub­li­cans, leav­ing Ryan just 21 votes to spare from his side to still win in a close vote. McCon­nell can spare just two votes in the Se­nate, or else the ACA over­haul fails there.

No one is cer­tain whether this GOP gen­er­a­tion is ready to fol­low its lead­ers.

“We’re fixin’ to find out,” Lott said.

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