The House is set to depart next week for a five-week summer recess, and the Republican majority could be leaving with a whimper.
Hopes of passing a 2018 budget remain in limbo — a crucial prerequisite to the tax overhaul House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has promised to deliver before year’s end, and one that White House officials are pushing to finish this month.
It also remains unclear whether the chamber will be able to clear a $790 billion spending bill with funding for the Mexican border wall that is favored by President Trump or a package of financial sanctions targeting Iran, Russia and North Korea that is not.
Passing only some — or even none — of these bills could make it an uncomfortable summer for GOP lawmakers, who are part of a federal government under unified Republican control for the first time in a decade yet have struggled to deliver major legislative victories.
That has many of them stewing about their intraparty feuds or the Senate’s intransigence — and honing explanations for their lackluster 2017.
“These are very big ideas, and we’re working very hard on them,” said Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), vice chairman of the House Budget Committee. “In terms of health care, the House did its job. In terms of a budget, the committee did its job.”
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Thursday that the House will vote next week on the spending package, as well as a resolution to disapprove new regulations from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau giving Americans greater rights to sue financial companies.
While those bills reflect longtime Republican priorities, they do not represent progress on two core items on the Trump agenda — health care and the tax overhaul.
Since passing a health-care bill in May, the House watched the Senate flounder on the issue, and the failure of an expected Senate vote on the issue next week could leave the legislation in permanent limbo.
A group of hard-line conservatives is pressing House leaders to vote on an Affordable Care Act repeal bill next week, but leaders and other members feel no compunction to act until the Senate breaks its impasse.
The much-anticipated tax reform bill, meanwhile, is caught up in the complex politics of GOP budgeting. Because Republicans expect to use special procedural rules to skirt a Democratic filibuster in the Senate and pass a bill with only GOP votes, they must first pass a budget resolution.
“Clearly, no budget, no tax reform,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, told reporters Thursday.
But passing a budget has been difficult, with conservatives and moderates divided on how deeply to cut into federal spending and whether to attach unrelated spending reforms to the tax bill.
The House Budget Committee advanced a GOP spending plan that would cut at least $205 billion in spending over the coming decade in a late-night party-line vote Wednesday, but several Republicans on the panel said they could not commit to voting for the measure on the House floor.
“If you analyze the numbers, we’re looking at $20 billion a year in the framework of deficits that are roughly $750 billion a year,” said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.). “You won’t solve this . . . debt problem we have with those kinds of numbers.”
Sanford later demonstrated the precariousness of the issue by proposing a surprise amendment meant to preclude any tax overhaul from incorporating a controversial Ryan-backed provision that would force companies to pay tax on imported goods.
Had the amendment gone up for a vote, several Republicans would have joined the panel’s Democrats to approve it, potentially scuttling the budget. Budget Committee Chairman Diane Black (R-Tenn.) ruled that amendment out of order, but a number of conservative hard-liners have demanded a similar provision in exchange for their votes.
House leaders have balked at micromanaging the tax bill in advance. “The budget is not going to tell Ways and Means how to reform the tax code,” said one GOP aide.
It could be more than a month before lawmakers get further details on the tax overhaul, with White House and congressional leaders still in talks to firm up the principles for a rewrite.
Brady told reporters Thursday that there was no firm timeline for rolling out a framework, while Ryan said at an event inside a Massachusetts shoe factory that it was a “once-in-a-generation moment” for a tax overhaul.
“We’re going to get this done in 2017,” Ryan said. “We’re going to get this done because we have to get this done.”
According to two House Republican aides, White House officials are pushing for a budget vote next week to show momentum toward the tax overhaul — including budget director Mick Mulvaney, a former lawmaker who was a frequent critic of House GOP spending plans.
House leaders are set to informally poll GOP members on the budget when they return to Washington on Monday, and they are loath to bring the measure to a vote until they have secured the necessary support to pass it.
There has been bipartisan progress on one closely watched measure — albeit one that is not part of the Trump administration agenda.
Negotiators neared a deal Friday on a bill that would slap new financial sanctions on Iran, Russia and possibly North Korea, said three congressional aides, setting up a possible vote next week. The White House opposes the legislation, which would prevent Trump from easing some sanctions without congressional approval.