PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania–Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R.-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) told reporters Thursday at the Republicans’ policy retreat here that they are committed to a 200-day program to implement the agenda of President Donald J. Trump.
“We are actually having a fantastic opportunity right here in Philadelphia,” said Ryan, wearing a striped button down oxford shirt and tan pants combination in keeping with the “retreat” atmosphere of the party’s three-day series of workshops, speeches, and mixers. The Republicans arrived Wednesday morning and stayed until their working breakfast Friday.
In addition to workshops and discussions, the Republicans were visited by Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May, and Super Bowl champion quarterback Peyton Manning.
“We are talking about the improvement of people’s lives and getting our country back on track,” he said. “House Republicans and Senate Republicans are working on a plan and bold agenda to get moving and work with our new administration.”
New administrations have been captive to the “First 100 Days” framing ever since President Franklin D. Roosevelt came into office in 1933 with a whirlwind of legislation and administrative actions. But, Ryan said, the Republicans had developed along with the Trump White House a 200-day plan that will wrap up with the August recess.
At the end of the 200 days, Capitol Hill Republicans expect to have repealed and replaced Obamacare, filled the vacant seat on the Supreme Court, and executed the most dramatic reform of the federal tax code since President Ronald W. Reagan’s flattening of tax rates in 1986.
Ryan said no one should be shocked by the ambitious agenda.
“We ran on these issue in 2016, so there’s no surprises here and the president agrees to this agenda,” he said.
Along the way, the emphasis or focus is going to change, depending on whether the messaging is coming from the White House or Capitol Hill, but Ryan insisted that he and Trump and McConnell are on the same page.
McConnell said he is working on a daily basis with the president and his staff to map out a bold and aggressive program that both fixes the problems and mistakes left by the last administration and fulfills campaign promises made in 2016.
“We are on the same page,” the senator said.
For some items, such as immigration or even building the wall along the Mexican border, there are no legislative fights ahead because the laws were already passed. The wall was authorized by the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and the president is going to merely enforce the immigration laws his predecessor ignored.
“The speaker understands the challenges of getting things done in the Senate,” he said. “That’s been true for 240 years, we are aware of those challenges, and we think we can move forward.”
The Republican majority in the Senate is 52-to-48, which means even with Vice President Michael R. Pence available to break a tie, if three GOP senators defect, the Democrats win.
This tight margin means that the Senate Republicans do not have the votes to end debate and force a vote, which requires 60 votes.
To make an end run around lacking the votes for cloture, Republicans are forced to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act through the budget reconciliation process. In this process, the budget bills are privileged, so they must come to a vote after 50 hours of debate. The drawback to this process is that bills can only deal with budget-related issues, and whatever is passed expires in 10 years. When Congress voted to repeal Obamacare in the week before Trump was sworn in, it was really a partial repeal that gutted the fees, taxes, and fines associated with President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform but left the rules and regulations in place.
Senate Minority Leader Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D.-N.Y.) has vowed to block and delay the Republicans at every turn, when it comes to Obamacare.
McConnell said, “If Hillary Clinton were president and Chuck Schumer were the majority leader, we would be revisiting Obamacare. The status quo is clearly unacceptable. If Hillary Clinton were president and Chuck Schumer were majority leader, we’d be moving toward a single-payer system.” A single-payer system is one in which all healthcare expenses are paid by the government.
Another development at the retreat was the resolve among GOP senators to fill the vacancy left by the Feb. 13, 2016 death of Justice Antonin G. Scalia.
Again the problem is the GOP’s lack of 60 votes.
Before then-majority leader Sen. Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) invoked the “nuclear option” in 2013, all confirmations were part of the two-step process of ending debate with 60 votes and then confirming the nominee with a simple majority. Reid executed a challenge to the rule for nominees in order to break the logjam of Obama appointments–blocked by the Republican minority. With this maneuver, Reid was able to fill vacancies on federal benches, at the Federal Communications Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — all of which led a torrent of new regulations as well as favorable rulings from newly appointed judges.
With respect to presidential appointments, Reid shattered a long-standing Senate protocol, which says that unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate works its will either through consensus or exhaustion.
But he left one piece of the protocol in place: the Supreme Court. One of the main reasons Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia, Judge Merrick Garland, languished was that the 60-vote threshold was insurmountable going into the 2016 elections. Now, that same reason gives Schumer and Senate Democrats a veto over anyone Trump nominates for the high court.
It is now clear from conversations with Republican senators and staff that if ending debate on Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court is blocked by Schumer, the GOP is ready to strike down the last vestige of the filibuster for presidential appointees.
The only answer a Republican senator gives for the record on the matter is: “The seat will be filled.” It is the same answer every time from everyone.
The last big item is the overhaul of the federal tax code. Of all of the GOP plans, this is the one most hidden from public view.
In the past, the grand bargain of Republican tax reform proposals was to return to the ideals of the 1986 legislation, which eliminated deductions in exchange for lowering rates. Flattening the tax code, or even going to a flat tax with one rate with very few deductions,was the ultimate goal.
Trump-era tax reform is something else entirely. This is full-on industrial policy and a shifting of the tax burden back onto imports and off of exports. This is not a new idea and, given the man’s popularity on Broadway, it is only fitting that America returns to the essence of Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton’s 1791 “Report on Subject Manufactures.” This was the country’s economic DNA until the post-World War II shift towards America sacrificing its interests for the rest of the world.
Hamilton called on Congress to protect “infant industries” with tariffs on imported goods, which until 1916 and the birth of the income tax provided the vast majority of federal revenues.
Today, the United States runs a trade deficit of $30-to-$40 billion per month, and Republicans are ready to tap or monetize that trade gap to the tune of $1 trillion per year. How they are going to do it is beyond the scope of this course. Suffice to say, they intend to not only raise this revenue to pay for massive tax cuts, but also to remove the economic incentive for American companies to move manufacturing overseas and then ship their finished products into the United States.
Of course, the ox gored in this reform is retailers and companies which rely on imported materials but do not export. Those folks are completely aware of what is going on, and of all the fights coming to Capitol Hill in the next 200 days, the tax overhaul will be the most vicious and the most likely to break up friendships.
In the end, though Trump is the man making all of this possible, and it is Trump who will be responsible for holding things together.
It is almost surreal to hear Ryan or McConnell speak of the president with respect and affection after a campaign cycle in which neither man dared stand up for him publicly amid crisis after crisis.
Yet the Republican Party is now Trump’s party, with the exception of Sen. John S. McCain III (R.-Ariz.) and his sidekick Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R.-S.C.). But two rebels does not become a problem until they find a third senator. Otherwise, the Capitol Hill Republicans are on board and on duty for the president.
It is also fair to say that Trump is also on board and on duty for his congressional party. More than once in his young presidency, he has signaled that he will fight alongside his congressmen and senators and give them political cover — a luxury never enjoyed by Democrats serving under Obama.