USCapitol / Flickr captiol building and senate fountain...
USCapitol / Flickr

Since Donald Trump encamped at the White House, Congress has accomplished … if not nothing, something very like it. They’ve passed the usual amount of post office naming bills, and swung the Congressional Review Act like a dead cat, knocking down rules against federal contracts who violate discrimination laws, gutting privacy protections, allowing mining companies to dump toxic waste in streams, and eliminating educational bills that passed with broad bipartisan support—just because. But when it comes to new bills, they have little to show for themselves but the carcass of the Republican health care plan and a 600-page heap of gifts to bankers that slipped through the House but which even Republican Senators seem to find quease-inducing. 

Now Republicans are out to prove that they’re more than hopeless snipers from the sidelines who don’t know how to actually govern. To prove it, they’re going to try to pass something.

The first step in Congress’ effort to get on track should be the easy one—they need to pass a bill to provide emergency funding the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Though some Republicans did vote against similar funding when Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast there are some big differences. First, that was the East Coast, which is known to play host to liberals and … urban people. Second, Obama was president, and Republicans hoped that they could delay Sandy funding long enough to make him look bad. And third, most of the people who voted against Sandy funding are now knee-deep in Harvey water. So it should pass easily.

Only Republicans have already found a way to make even this bill into a problem.

The House of Representatives will vote Wednesday on a Hurricane Harvey relief bill that won’t contain language aimed at staving off a U.S default on its debt.

Republican leaders for now are bowing to the demands of their most conservative members and won’t combine legislation raising the U.S. debt ceiling with Harvey aid, a House Republican aide said Monday.

With the debt ceiling rapidly approaching, even a bill that awards a preliminary $7.4 billion to Harvey victims threatens to drive the whole country into a fiscal crisis. But while Republicans might be anxious to show they can govern, they haven’t managed to solve their biggest problem—Republicans.


The ultra-Conservatives of the Freedom Caucus don’t want the government to work. They want the government to fail. So even though Republicans are now planning to hustle the Harvey bill forward, counting on the Senate to add the debt ceiling increase, there’s little doubt this will bring it back into a collision with the House.

A top House conservative said Monday he would oppose any effort to use the Harvey aid bill to raise the debt ceiling.

“As we have stated for months, the debt ceiling should be paired with significant fiscal and structural reforms,” Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker of North Carolina said in a statement. “If we resort to just kicking the can down the road on the debt, it only shows that Republicans do not take the problem of our $20 trillion debt seriously.”

There’s not time to make undefined “significant fiscal and structural reforms” before the Harvey money is distributed. There’s not even time to make such reforms before the debt ceiling is reached. But expect the Freedom Caucus to hold the process hostage until everyone else agrees to break something vital.

Tax Reform

Harvey and the debt ceiling are only the opening act. Republicans are much, much more anxious to get a start on tax reform. The plan that the self-named “Big Six” have put forward would tax personal 401K plans, limit the mortgage deduction, and generally stiff the middle class all in the name of giving a break to corporations. Republicans are convinced they can sell the American people on a bill that helps corporations at a time that corporate profits are higher than they’ve been at any time in history and corporate taxes are already way down. 

After-tax profits… have for most of the past decade-plus been markedly higher than at any time since 1929, when the top corporate income tax rate was just 11 percent.

What this means is that corporations are paying a lot less in taxes (as a share of profits or of GDP) than they used to. 

In the Ultimate Express of Trickle-Down, Republicans are determined to sell the nation on the idea that if we give billions more to corporations already setting on billions, reward executives already rocking eight-figure bonuses, and pay for it by stripping away the thing Americans were talked into accepting as a miserable alternative to pensions … it will be good. Oh yeah, and the proposed Big Six bill specifically sets out to punish people who live in blue states with decent state services, so it better be something that Republicans can structure to be immune to filibuster. 

Health Care

While Republicans are making that pitch, they may try to revive the health care bill. But if they do something other than work with Democrats to address issues with the Affordable Care Act, Republicans will have to locate a unity and genius far beyond that their previous efforts. That’s especially true because …

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For Republicans to pass anything after September 30, they’ll need the votes of Democrats in the Senate. So unless they can slip something through in the next couple of weeks while also dealing with Harvey and the debt ceiling, it’s not going to happen.


This might not have been high on Republican lists before, but since Donald Trump decided to punt finding a DACA replacement to the Congress, under threat of his upraised executive order Sharpie, it’s become a very big deal.

Again, while the idea of not deporting these people angers many in the Republican Party, there is a most likely a majority in both the House and Senate to allow that to happen. What kind of deal making might have to be involved is unclear, and given the explosive nature of the immigration debate, opening up this matter to legislation in Congress could make for some difficult political choices for lawmakers on the GOP side.

DACA is something that Republicans weren’t counting on dealing with in the near term, but now they have to. It seems unlikely that Republicans will come up with a bill that doesn’t punish at least some group of children because, again, Republicans.

Other stuff

Quick. What’s was the theme for the week where Trump delivered his “both sides” speech welcoming Nazis to the national conversation? Infrastructure. Trump had promised a “trillion dollar” infrastructure plan, one that included selling off major components of the transportation grid to private companies. A more traditional transportation bill might actually get some support from Democrats, because that kind of bill represents genuine jobs in locations they can pin down. But it seems pretty unlikely in the near future.

And wasn’t Trump after some other kind of infrastructure?

While President Trump in August threatened a government shutdown if he didn’t get money for his border wall, the consensus on Capitol Hill is that he won’t press that fight before December – mainly because of the need to get money through for Hurricane Harvey disaster relief. There is also the basic issue of numbers – Mr. Trump does not have a majority of votes in either the House or the Senate for the border wall.

Republicans have driven Congress like the proverbial dog that didn’t know what to do with the car once he’d caught it. They’re determined to do something to improve that image. Harvey was a disaster of a storm, but it should give Republicans an easy win … if they can get past their own party and the big orange squall at the other end of the block.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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