(Bloomberg) — President Donald Trump is now more likely than ever to end his first year in office without a single major legislative accomplishment.
His Affordable Care Act change effort collapsed Tuesday. He won’t even release the broad outlines of his tax overhaul plan until September. The last time Washington did a major tax bill, in 1986, it took more than a year. A $1 trillion infrastructure plan is little more than a talking point. Congress ignored his budget proposal. Republicans are as divided on all of these issues as they are on health care. Lawmakers haven’t even given him money to build his border wall.
And between now and the end of the year, Congress still has to approve more than $1 trillion in federal spending, pass a veterans health care bill and navigate a debt-ceiling fight to avoid a potential default, all in the space of about a dozen working weeks. It doesn’t leave much time for legislating, even for a Republican president who came into office with a package of promises and a Republican Senate and a Republican House to boot.
The White House pledges next time will be different — preparing to launch a tax overhaul effort, complete with a coordinated strategy and travel by Trump to key states to promote the plan, something he never did in a concerted way with the Affordable Care Act change effort. The administration is asking corporate chief executives and conservative groups to pitch in with media appearances and town halls and is recruiting governors and local officials to do the same.
That still might not be enough. The failed fight over the Affordable Care Act exposed weaknesses that imperil much of Trump’s agenda: a historically unpopular and inattentive political novice in the Oval Office, an uncompromising hard-right wing on Capitol Hill, and their leadership’s inability to bridge internal philosophical divides.
The first casualty of the Affordable Care Act debate is time: six fruitless months exhausted on a subject Republican leaders had hoped to dispatch in January. And this was supposed to be the easy one. Since 2010, Republicans had promised a repeal. Trump and Republicans campaigned hard on the issue. Yet despite full control of Washington, they couldn’t get it done.
“Every Republican for the last seven years has campaigned on repealing Obamacare,” Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said Tuesday. “I think the credibility of the conference is seriously undermined if we fail to deliver on that promise.”
On Wednesday, Trump said he planned to meet with Republican senators for lunch at the White House to see if they could try again to get a health care bill through the chamber. “They MUST keep their promise to America!” he tweeted. “The Republicans never discuss how good their healthcare bill is, & it will get even better at lunchtime.”
Surprised By Defections
Even by the standards of Trump’s own instincts to delegate the detail work, the president was unusually disconnected from the debate as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s health care bill veered off course.
Last week, he traveled to Paris to participate in Bastille Day festivities with French President Emmanuel Macron. On Friday, he went directly from Paris to his club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he spent nearly nine hours over three days on the golf course watching the U.S. Women’s Open. On Monday, he kicked off the White House’s “Made in America” week with a photo op in which he sat in a fire truck on the South Lawn, tried on a cowboy hat and hefted a baseball bat.
Two Republican senators, Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas, were meanwhile planning to publicly defect from the Obamacare legislation.
“I was very surprised when the two folks came out last night because we thought they were in fairly good shape,” he told reporters Tuesday at the White House.
Trump gamely tried to put the blame on Democrats. “We’re not going to own it,” he said “I’m not going to own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it.”
The public would disagree. Americans say they would blame Trump and Republicans for a problems in the health care system over Democrats by 59% to 30 percent, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll taken June 14-19.