Trump, Congress work­ing to­gether to pass ma­jor bills

In­cludes roll­back of Dodd-Frank GOP’s tax cut re­form left big mess, says com­mit­tee

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVE BOYER BY DAVID SHERFINSKI

While much of Amer­ica wasn’t look­ing, Pres­i­dent Trump and Congress ac­tu­ally have been get­ting some work done to­gether.

Congress passed three sig­nif­i­cant bills be­fore the Me­mo­rial Day re­cess that Mr. Trump has signed or will sign into law in com­ing weeks, in­clud­ing a par­tial roll­back of the 2010 Dodd-Frank fi­nan­cial in­dus­try reg­u­la­tions, a move that sup­port­ers — in­clud­ing many Democrats — say will spur lend­ing by small banks in small towns na­tion­wide.

As he signed the reg­u­la­tion-cut­ting mea­sure last month, the pres­i­dent said law­mak­ers are buck­ing the tra­di­tion of leg­isla­tive loaf­ing in a midterm elec­tion year.

“For a Congress that they say, you know, won’t be do­ing much be­cause we have an elec­tion com­ing up, I think we’re do­ing an aw­ful lot,” Mr. Trump said. “I think we’re do­ing more than any Congress in a long time.”

Andrew Busch, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist at Clare­mont McKenna Col­lege in Cal­i­for­nia, agreed there has been “a flurry of leg­isla­tive ac­tiv­ity re­cently,” in­clud­ing the Dodd-Frank over­haul, leg­is­la­tion to re­form Vet­er­ans Af­fairs ser­vices and a “right to try” mea­sure al­low­ing ter­mi­nal pa­tients ac­cess to drugs that haven’t re­ceived fi­nal ap­proval from the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“As a gen­eral rule, it is of­ten more dif­fi­cult to pass bills in elec­tion years, midterm or pres­i­den­tial, be­cause both sides are afraid of let­ting the other side gain good pub­lic­ity,” Mr. Busch said. “How­ever, it re­ally de­pends on the bal­ance of power in Congress, how each party per­ceives its elec­toral in­ter­ests and the na­ture of the is­sue.”

The num­bers back up the pres­i­dent. Mr. Trump has signed 57 laws so far this year, com­pared with 34 by Pres­i­dent Obama at the same point in the midterm year of 2014, when Mr. Obama was con­tend­ing with a House Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity. In April of that year, Mr. Obama com­plained it was “the least pro­duc­tive Congress in mod­ern his­tory.”

In the midterm year of 2010, when Mr. Obama was work­ing with Demo­cratic ma­jori­ties in the House and Se­nate, he had signed 46 bills into law by Me­mo­rial Day.

Mr. Busch said very lit­tle hap­pened in 2014 be­cause con­trol of Congress was di­vided “and there was gen­eral grid­lock.”

“On the other hand, 2010 saw the pas­sage of Oba­macare be­cause Democrats had suf­fi­cient num­bers in both houses to push it through, and po­lit­i­cally they were afraid — prob­a­bly wrongly — of the elec­toral con­se­quences of com­ing up empty,” he said.

Al­though Congress hasn’t passed any leg­is­la­tion this year as important as the tax cuts that were ap­proved in De­cem­ber, the re­cent bills aren’t all about re­nam­ing post of­fices. The Dodd-Frank roll­back, the VA mea­sure and the “right to try” leg­is­la­tion each ad­dress cam­paign prom­ises made by Mr. Trump.

Far from cut­ting loop­holes, Repub­li­cans left the fed­eral tax code just as messy af­ter their $1.5 tril­lion over­haul last year, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port from Congress’s of­fi­cial score­keep­ers that sig­nals Pres­i­dent Trump and the GOP failed on one of their chief goals.

The new tax law re­pealed nine breaks but added 17 new ones. It also mod­i­fied an­other 55 of the more than 200 spe­cial breaks em­bed­ded in the code, known as “tax ex­pen­di­tures,” ac­cord­ing to the re­port from the Joint Com­mit­tee on Tax­a­tion.

The law’s back­ers say de­spite the ad­di­tional breaks, things are sim­pler now for most tax­pay­ers, who no longer face “dou­ble tax­a­tion” on items like cap­i­tal gains and in­her­i­tances, and who are more likely to claim the stan­dard de­duc­tion, eas­ing their pa­per­work bur­den each year.

But Sen. Ron Wy­den, the top Democrat on the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, said Repub­li­cans failed to clean out the “junk” in the tax code, call­ing it “yet an­other bro­ken Trump prom­ise.”

And none re­ceived much me­dia cov­er­age in a week dom­i­nated by the pres­i­dent’s on-again, off-again sum­mit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the revelation of an FBI in­for­mant in the Trump pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in 2016 — a story pro­moted re­lent­lessly by the pres­i­dent him­self as he con­tin­ues to fight back against spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s long-run­ning in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“Of­ten with all that’s go­ing on in­ter­na­tion­ally, and some of the cov­er­age of con­tin­u­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions, per­haps palace in­trigue, there’s a lack of fo­cus on all that’s ac­tu­ally get­ting ac­com­plished leg­isla­tively,” said Marc Short, direc­tor of leg­isla­tive af­fairs at the White House. “I think we’ll look back on this Congress as be­ing in­cred­i­bly pro­duc­tive.”

It’s not clear whether these leg­isla­tive vic­to­ries for Mr. Trump and the GOP will have any im­pact on the midterm elec­tions, in which Democrats need to flip 23 seats to re­claim the House and Repub­li­cans are de­fend­ing a two-seat ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate.

“The Dodd-Frank re­form is re­ally important for the bank­ing com­mu­nity, par­tic­u­larly small banks, but it’s not the kind of thing that nor­mally pen­e­trates the pub­lic con­scious­ness,” said GOP poll­ster Whit Ayres, founder of North Star Opin­ion Re­search.

Suc­cess af­ter suc­cess

He said vot­ers tend to no­tice “ma­jor bills that af­fect many peo­ple in the coun­try, like the tax cut.”

Still, the GOP has been per­form­ing much bet­ter in generic con­gres­sional polling in re­cent weeks, clos­ing a dou­ble-digit gap with Democrats to move es­sen­tially into a tie. Mr. Ayres said that’s largely due to a rise of Mr. Trump’s job-ap­proval rating from 37 per­cent in an av­er­age of all pub­lic

“Facts like these con­tinue to prove that this tax law is a bad deal for the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” he said.

Sim­pli­fy­ing the tax code was a ma­jor ob­jec­tive as the GOP be­gan its re­write last year. Ev­ery­one from Mr. Trump to Congress’s top tax-writ­ers said the “loop­holes” should go, leav­ing a tax code ev­ery­one could un­der­stand.

When time came to write the bill, how­ever, an army of lob­by­ists ar­rived to de­fend each of the more than 200 spe­cial breaks al­ready in the tax code for ev­ery­thing from fuel-ef­fi­cient cars to race­horse own­ers and NASCAR race­track own­ers.

Ways and Means Com­mit­tee Chair­man Kevin Brady, the House’s top taxwriter, touted the eco­nomic ben­e­fits of the new law this week, but ac­knowl­edged there’s still work to be done to clear the code of those spe­cial breaks.

Mr. Brady said he hopes to make head­way the next time Congress takes up what’s known as the “tax ex­ten­ders,” a pack­age of about 30 spe­cial breaks that Congress reg­u­larly re­news on a one- or two-year ba­sis.

“We are try­ing to change the cul­ture polls around the time of the tax cuts, to about 44 per­cent to­day in the av­er­age of all polls.

“That’s still noth­ing to write home about, but those seven points are re­ally important for Repub­li­cans’ chances of holding onto con­trol of Congress,” Mr. Ayres said. “It’s largely driven by Repub­li­cans and Repub­li­can-lean­ing independents mov­ing back into ap­proval of Don­ald Trump’s job performance.”

He cred­ited the pres­i­dent’s ris­ing job ap­proval to “a com­bi­na­tion of the ma­jor tax pack­age, which re­ally was a big deal, a strong econ­omy, and [un­re­solved] hopes of progress in North Korea.”

Repub­li­can poll­ster Frank Luntz took it a step fur­ther, pre­dict­ing that the GOP would hold onto its House ma­jor­ity if law­mak­ers move this year to choose a new speaker to re­place the re­tir­ing Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wis­con­sin. Mr. Luntz said on Fox News that the de­ci­sion would give vot­ers a clear choice over lib­eral House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi of Cal­i­for­nia, a bo­gey­man for con­ser­va­tives who is viewed as a prime mo­ti­va­tor of Repub­li­can turnout.

In ad­di­tion to leg­isla­tive wins, Repub­li­cans are point­ing to other ac­tions likely to ap­peal to their base:

A record-break­ing string of con­fir­ma­tions of con­ser­va­tive judges to fed­eral ap­peals courts.

Ex­ec­u­tive ac­tion by Mr. Trump to re­verse decades of fed­eral fund­ing for fam­ily-plan­ning clin­ics that of­fer abor­tions.

The open­ing of the U.S. Em­bassy in Jerusalem.

The with­drawal from the Iran nu­clear deal.

The is­suance of new or­ders to re­form civil ser­vice rules to speed ter­mi­na­tion of poor-per­form­ing gov­ern­ment work­ers. in Wash­ing­ton, so we want to drive out those spe­cial tem­po­rary pro­vi­sions that, frankly, our tax code is bet­ter than,” he said at an Amer­i­cans for Pros­per­ity event in Texas. “What has merit, put it in there. Get the rest of it out of there. I’m try­ing my darnedest to get rid of these tem­po­rary pro­vi­sions.”

He’s tried to cull the list be­fore, but with lit­tle luck.

In­deed, many of the tem­po­rary breaks were re­newed once again in the two-year bud­get deal law­mak­ers struck ear­lier this year.

Grover Norquist, pres­i­dent of Amer­i­cans for Tax Re­form, said the tax over­haul did ac­com­plish some stream­lin­ing.

“The Repub­li­cans did what they said they were go­ing to do,” he said. “They got rid of quote-un­quote tax ex­pen­di­tures that ad­van­tage one in­dus­try over an­other.”

Mr. Norquist said in­di­vid­ual breaks should be ex­am­ined on their own mer­its. For ex­am­ple, “new” ben­e­fits to lower the cap­i­tal gains tax and wind down the es­tate tax on in­her­i­tances work to sim­plify things in the end be­cause those items deal with money that was pre­sum­ably taxed al­ready, he said.

Mr. Trump’s win on NFL pol­icy last week that will bar play­ers from protest­ing the na­tional an­them on the side­lines.

There are other vic­to­ries, such as the suc­cess­ful confirmation bat­tles of Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and CIA Direc­tor Gina Haspel.

But there’s also the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which has no clear end in sight and which is be­ing coun­tered more ag­gres­sively by new Trump lawyer Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani.

And with the deadline for fis­cal 2019 ap­pro­pri­a­tions four months away, Mr. Trump has warned Congress that he’ll veto any more spend­ing bills that reach the level of the $1.3 tril­lion pack­age he signed in March.

In his Me­mo­rial Day mes­sage, the pres­i­dent em­pha­sized the econ­omy, which is hum­ming along with a his­tor­i­cally low un­em­ploy­ment rate of 3.9 per­cent.

“Best econ­omy in decades, low­est un­em­ploy­ment num­bers for Blacks and His­pan­ics EVER (& women in 18years), re­build­ing our Mil­i­tary and so much more,” Mr. Trump tweeted.

The White House is still en­ter­tain­ing hope of get­ting more ac­com­plished leg­isla­tively this year, in­clud­ing pas­sage of a farm bill and confirmation of more judges. The ad­min­is­tra­tion also is work­ing with House and Se­nate Repub­li­cans on an­other tax-re­form pack­age that would make per­ma­nent the in­di­vid­ual tax cuts.

While the prospects for an im­mi­gra­tion fix are un­cer­tain at best, Mr. Short said there’s even less chance this year of a long-awaited pack­age to re­pair the na­tion’s in­fras­truc­ture.

“Democrats are not in­ter­ested in giv­ing the pres­i­dent a leg­isla­tive vic­tory in this midterm year,” he said. “The pol­i­tics this year are in­ter­ven­ing in that.”

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