Shortly after wrapping up a dinner with lawmakers Tuesday night, President Trump tweeted a sharp legislative demand:
Senate passed the VA Accountability Act. The House should get this bill to my desk ASAP! We can’t tolerate substandard care for our vets.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 7, 2017
This one, unlike his previous calls for action on health care, tax reform and a southern border wall, stands to bear immediate fruit. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Wednesday the House will vote on the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act next week.
“We’re going to pass that, it will go right to the president and get his signature,” McCarthy told reporters.
If only the rest of the congressional agenda were that easy. For now, barring breakthroughs on bigger agenda items, Congress is left to play “small ball” on items like the VA bill that can garner at least some bipartisan support.
The bill —sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who was among the lawmakers who dined with Trump Tuesday — is aimed at making it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to fire bad employees, lowering the evidentiary standards and streamlining the termination and appeals process. It also creates an “Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection” within the department. It passed the Senate on a voice vote Tuesday.
Later in the month, McCarthy said, the House will take up another noncontroversial bill, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which reauthorizes existing federal programs.
This week, the House is taking up a bill that better demonstrates the limits of GOP power even in a Washington largely under their control. The Financial CHOICE Act, which rolls back key provisions of the Dodd-Frank banking reform bill, passed when Democrats were in power in 2010.
That bill makes good on major promises to the Republican base — conservative limited-government activists and big businesses alike — but there is no sign the Senate plans to act on the bill, due both to the certainty of a Democratic filibuster and the preference of some GOP senators to craft a smaller, bipartisan bill focused on regulatory relief for small banks.
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Wednesday that he expects few, if any, House Democrats to support the bill and that it cannot pass the 60-vote threshold in the Senate and questioned whether Trump would want to be associated with a rollback of Wall Street regulations: “It seems like we’re moving in exactly the opposite direction the administration said it was going to move.”
Democrats made a strategic move to limit amendments, which prompted McCarthy’s office to announce late Tuesday that there would be no House business Friday — giving lawmakers a two-and-a-half-day workweek.
That, in turn, prompted criticism from Democrats eager to highlight the inaction:
I JUST arrived in DC after Congress has been home for 10 days & @HouseGOP says we'll be done in 36 hrs. RT if we should be working for you.
— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) June 7, 2017
“I thought the Democrats would have a lot more amendments,” McCarthy said Wednesday.
Jenna Portnoy contributed to this report.