Can Congress pivot?

If Repub­li­cans want to gov­ern, here are some things they could ac­tu­ally do af­ter the re­cess.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - ED­I­TO­RI­ALS

THE SE­NATE ad­journed for its August break on Thurs­day, clos­ing an un­pro­duc­tive hal­fyear that un­der­scored a fun­da­men­tal truth about U.S. pol­i­tics: The coun­try can­not be gov­erned from the fringes. If much is to get done — and there is much to do — com­pro­mise must oc­cur.

Repub­li­cans’ uni­lat­eral ef­fort to re­peal Oba­macare dom­i­nated Congress’s past sev­eral months. Even with the GOP hold­ing ma­jori­ties in both houses, Repub­li­can health-care pro­pos­als were too cruel and too un­pop­u­lar, and the pro­ce­dure con­gres­sional lead­ers used to try to jam them through were too reck­less. Only a hard-core base of ex­treme Oba­macare haters wanted Repub­li­can law­mak­ers to pro­ceed. In the Se­nate, where broad pop­u­lar opin­ion is more im­por­tant than in the heav­ily ger­ry­man­dered House, the re­peal ef­fort nar­rowly failed, and it should have.

Repub­li­can lead­ers face a choice: They can con­tinue try­ing to force right-wing pol­icy on an un­will­ing coun­try, or they can work with Democrats to solve prob­lems both par­ties ac­knowl­edge. The path of com­pro­mise would di­verge sharply from the nasty pol­i­tics of the re­cent past. But that is the point: Congress’s re­cent record is abysmal. Here’s an al­ter­na­tive to-do list.

Fol­low­ing the col­lapse of re­peal-and-re­place, Congress will need to sta­bi­lize shaky health-care mar­kets. One solid com­pro­mise pro­posal, from the bi­par­ti­san Prob­lem Solvers Cau­cus, is al­ready on the ta­ble. Mod­er­ate se­na­tors are dis­cussing deals of their own. The con­tours of a fair bar­gain are clear: a com­mit­ment to fully fund Oba­macare pro­grams and rein­sur­ance in ex­change for some reg­u­la­tory re­forms and added state flex­i­bil­ity.

Also on the must-do-soon list is rais­ing the fed­eral debt ceil­ing and fund­ing the gov­ern­ment — in time to pre­vent panic that the United States might de­fault on its obli­ga­tions.

Meantime, Repub­li­cans want to turn to tax re­form. Good. The U.S. tax code is com­plex, dis­tor­tional and in­ter­na­tion­ally un­com­pet­i­tive. Mem­bers of both par­ties have spo­ken for years about low­er­ing tax rates, paid for by end­ing eco­nom­i­cally in­ef­fi­cient de­duc­tions, and bring­ing home in­come that U.S. com­pa­nies have parked over­seas. Pass­ing a bill would be eas­ier if Repub­li­cans fo­cused on the cor­po­rate tax code rather than mon­key­ing with per­sonal tax rates. Democrats should be will­ing to work with the GOP as long as Repub­li­cans make their plan au­then­ti­cally rev­enue-neu­tral, not a stealth tax cut.

Pres­i­dent Trump ran on a cam­paign to im­prove the na­tion’s in­fra­struc­ture. Democrats share the goal. They should be open to in­no­va­tive ways of pay­ing for new roads, rails, wires and ports, in­clud­ing mar­shal­ing pri­vate funds, if Repub­li­cans are will­ing to raise public money, too.

On for­eign af­fairs, Congress has al­ready made some progress, pass­ing a sanctions bill lim­it­ing Mr. Trump’s abil­ity to bar­gain with Rus­sia, a geopo­lit­i­cal foe for whom the pres­i­dent has a bizarre af­fec­tion. In re­assert­ing Congress’s pre­rog­a­tives, law­mak­ers should also re­draft the autho­riza­tion for the use of mil­i­tary force that pro­vides the le­gal ba­sis for on­go­ing mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions against the Is­lamic State, al-Qaeda and oth­ers. Congress has not vis­ited this is­sue since 2001, and the le­gal ground for con­tin­u­ing con­flict is shaky.

Last week saw the in­tro­duc­tion of a cou­ple of im­mi­gra­tion bills — but the main­stream, bi­par­ti­san com­pro­mise looks dif­fer­ent, pair­ing en­hanced bor­der pro­tec­tion with a path­way for le­gal sta­tus for peo­ple cur­rently in the coun­try.

Fi­nally, law­mak­ers must stand up for a demo­cratic sys­tem un­der stress. They should stick with their Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, con­sider how to harden the na­tion’s vot­ing pro­ce­dures against fu­ture at­tack and con­tinue to give spe­cial coun­sel Robert S. Mueller III the sup­port he needs to com­plete his in­quiry.

Repub­li­cans can blow off steam, or they can gov­ern. Time to choose.

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