Fractured Congress stalls Trump agenda
Democrats: President has alienated them
President Trump is stringing together some wins — from a precision military strike on the Syrian regime to confirmation of his Supreme Court pick to trashing reams of Obama-era regulations — but much of his legislative agenda remains bottled up in Congress.
Eighty days into his presidency, Mr. Trump has been denied the major legislative accomplishments that were cornerstones of his campaign. The wreck in Congress last month of a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare has backed up other top priorities, including tax reform and a $1 trillion infrastructure program.
Still, Mr. Trump has been able to move forward on some key parts of his agenda without the help of the Republican-run Congress. In his most recent weekly video address, the president pointed to the burgeoning confidence in the economy and progress turning back the tide of illegal immigration, where the flow across the southwest border dropped a staggering 63 percent in March compared to last year.
“The confidence we are seeing in our nation is about jobs and opportunity, but it’s also about safety and security,” he said. “Security begins at the border. As a candidate, I pledged to take swift and decisive action to secure the border, and that is exactly what I have done.”
But there are limits to what a president can achieve with executive action alone, and Mr. Trump has been hindered by a fractured Congress.
The problem isn’t the amount of legislation on Capitol Hill. Congress has tackled a comparable number of bills this year compared to 2009, when
it was Democrats who had control of the House, Senate and White House.
The bills that arrived on President Obama’s desk were heftier, however.
Among the early bills Mr. Obama signed were the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which bolstered protection against pay discrimination, the Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act and the $787 billion economic stimulus package known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The most consequential bills signed by Mr. Trump, by contrast, have been the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Transition Authorization Act, which restored the agency’s focus on space missions, and a dozen bills that used an obscure statute called the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to cancel regulations imposed by the Obama administration.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s office said it’s a mistake to underestimate the importance of using CRA to advance Mr. Trump’s deregulation agenda. “President Trump ran on ending these regulations and jump-starting the economy. We have followed through on that pledge,” said Ryan spokesman Doug Andres. “Our use of CRAs is unprecedented. Until this year, Congress had only used this law once to successfully repeal a regulation.” He said the White House and Congress remain on track to implement an ambitious agenda.
“We’ve also made significant progress on our promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. Obamacare took more than two months to enact into law, so it will take time to repeal and replace,” said Mr. Andres.
The first major Obamacare bill was introduced in the House in July 2009, and a bill didn’t pass the Senate until Christmas Eve that year. The effort seemed to stall a month later after Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, but they found a way to revive their bill and passed it in March.
Now it’s the GOP that’s looking to revive its Obamacare repeal after House Republicans’ first go-around stumbled.
Mr. Ryan and conservative congressional leaders announced tweaks late last week they hope can win over enough conservatives without losing moderates.
Capitol Hill Democrats, who have remained united against almost every move by Mr. Trump, blamed the lack of early legislative triumphs on the partisanship they see on the other side of the aisle.
“They’ve spent their time in the first portion of their hundred days focused on extremely right-wing policies,” said Drew Hammill, deputy chief of staff for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
He noted that the Lilly Leadbetter bill passed in 2009 with GOP support.
The stimulus spending bill, however, passed with no support from House Republicans and just three GOP votes in the Senate.
“If you know that you need Democrats to pass something in Congress, which I think has been established at this point, you shouldn’t spend your time doing a bunch of executive orders that completely alienate Democrats in your first hundred days,” said Mr. Hammill. “Because when it’s time to come to Democrats for something, you’ve spent any good will you had as a new president alienating people.” Mr. Trump does have an opening to win Democratic backers for his $1 trillion plan to rebuild America’s highways, bridges, railways and airports, although bipartisan support for the effort falters when it comes to how to pay for it.
The infrastructure bill is still on the drawing board in the White House.