Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan are mulling a basic framework to raise the debt ceiling without spending cuts and avert an Oct. 1 shutdown with a short-term spending bill, according to multiple Republican aides. But while top Trump officials like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin back a “clean” debt increase, the president himself is mum on the latest strategy.
That strategy may be quickly out of date as the administration and Congress jostle to attach new items to the debt, but not of the type fiscal hawks had in mind, namely big domestic tax cuts.
Democrats will be looking to add on protection for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival — perhaps to the debt ceiling or alternatively to the funding bill. President Trump and the powerful Texas delegation will be looking to do the same with Hurricane Harvey relief. Trump seems to be caving with remarkably little effort from Democrats on his wall. (“Trump has signaled to his staff that he’d prefer to have the border wall fight later this year, sources familiar with those conversations said.”)
If Freedom Caucus members and hard-line Republicans in the Senate get neither the wall nor spending cuts, they might opt out of hard votes, leaving GOP leadership to go hat-in-hand to Democrats. Ironically, that may hand House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) more leverage, which can be turned around to help them achieve protection for DACA participants.
What’s not in the mix is tax reform or even tax cuts. It’s hard to find either lawmakers or Wall Street types who think much is going to get done on that front. That in part may be because the chances of an actual budget — to which reconciliation instructions for tax reform might attach (thereby allowing Republicans to avoid a filibuster) — are diminishing. As one commentator reminds us, a budget would “need eight more spending measures from the House and a dozen from the Senate.” That’s just the beginning:
Then all those bills would need to be mashed up in conference committees between the two chambers. The results would still need to pass both chambers and be signed by President Trump. . . .
You might take solace in the fact that Congress still has almost a month to get all this done. Except that leadership has only scheduled a dozen legislative working days in September. So, right now it seems a safe bet we will need that old reliable tool from the days of divided government. It’s known as a “continuing resolution,” and it will keep the government operating past Oct. 1. We will probably need more than one CR before it all gets done.
And no, a continuing resolution does not allow one to use reconciliation rules. (Notice that even if Trump and the GOP had passed health-care reform, lacking a budget it still could not have gotten through.)
It’s very likely there will be no budget, no tax cut, no significant spending cuts and no wall funding by the end of the month. That would push a budget showdown to later in the year (don’t make Christmas holiday plans quite yet!). And tax reform? That may very well not get done at all, as some of us predicted.
The good news for Democrats is that they could escape the first year of Trump’s presidency with Obamacare intact, no border wall and no tax cut for the rich. The bad news is that they may still be looking for a DACA solution. You do wonder what in the world Republicans plan on running on in 2018.