WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The Trump administration is resolved to push more of its agenda through Congress this new year. But, election year dynamics could build an even bigger wall between republicans and democrats on Capitol Hill.
The Trump administration plans to build off momentum from its signature political victory late-last year: tax reform.
“Republicans have learned in this cycle that when you work together, you can get a lot done,” said Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp.
The White House is drawing up blueprints for an infrastructure bill – funding repairs, streamlining permitting, and expanding high-speed internet’s reach into rural areas. Schlapp did not offer fine details of the multi-billion dollar plan but said broadly, “we’re going to be looking at how we rebuild our hometown America.”
Schlapp said tax reform provided the president with a political victory on health care. Earlier this year, a handful of republicans blocked efforts to repeal Obamacare. Tax reform removed the penalty for not having insurance though.
Getting rid of that penalty is not projected to cut costs, so expect renewed debate over subsidies and whether to scrap Obamacare in 2018.
Lawmakers will be forced to deal with the question of how to handle undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. Spokespeople said building a massive wall along the Mexican border remains a priority for the president, and that his immigration priorities would need to be met as part of any deal.
The new year should offer Democrats more political power to push back. “I think the big issue is getting our budgets back in order,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), “spend money on things that really affect us, not things that are sloganeering.”
Leahy sarcastically suggested that if the President Trump is serious about his pledge to make Mexico pay for the wall, then Congress should setup a bank account for that purpose. If and when Mexico transfers funds, Leahy said he would not stand in the way of the wall’s construction.
Almost every proposal Congress considers this year will To get through Congress require some buy-in from the democrats, and the GOP majority is slimmer with an Alabama senate seat turning blue. Infrastructure likely represents the best opportunity for the parties to work together. But, agreement on fixing roads and bridges may be derailed by debate over how to pay for it.
Many experts expect lawmakers to struggle to craft new laws this year, even more so than last year.
Niels Lesniewski began covering Capitol Hill more than a decade ago. He said the November mid-term elections add roadblocks, shortening the political calendar while lawmakers spend their limited time trying to score political points.
Fallout from the November 2016’s election could also complicate matters, if there’s a twist in Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation into possible ties between the Trump team and Russia.
“if there’s actually more indictments or prosecutions that start happening :21 it might well freeze out everything legislatively from the news cycle,” said Lesniewski, “and it may actually freeze out all the legislative activity on Capitol Hill, particularly if lawmakers find themselves with no choice but to deal with responding to what Mueller is [doing].”
Lesniewski said more revelations about sexual harassment could also shift the power dynamic in Congress if lawmakers resign or are forced out. That would dramatically change the political calculus for any proposal.
Lawmakers return to Capitol Hill for the new year later this week.