For conservatives, the moment was the culmination of a growing frustration with how GOP leaders have run Congress since Trump took office. Already resentful of the leaders’ near-total secrecy in drafting legislation to de-fund the Affordable Care Act and overhaul the tax code, many Republicans are becoming more concerned that their party may not be able to deliver on any of its major legislative promises.
Trump’s deal “shows that the president wants to move the ball forward, and that’s not always going to be by agreeing with Republican leadership,” Jim Renacci, an Ohio Republican said in an interview.
Trump echoed that sentiment in a tweet Friday, showing his frustration with the GOP’s failed attempt to overhaul the ACA. “Republicans, sorry, but I’ve been hearing about Repeal & Replace for 7 years, didn’t happen!” he wrote, adding that the filibuster rule in the Senate will prevent Republicans from passing “even great legislation.”
The House today passed a hurricane relief bill that Trump negotiated 316-90. The measure, which funds the government through Dec. 8, includes a short-term suspension of the federal debt limit.
All 90 of the House members who voted against the bill are Republicans.
The party that controls both chambers of government and the White House should be thinking “five, 10, 100 years down the road,” Rep. Ted Yoho, a Florida Republican said Wednesday night. Congress has known for months that the U.S. government would run out of money sometime in October, Yoho said, so there’s no excuse for GOP leaders to be scrambling in the second week of September.
‘Crisis Management Mode’
“We’re in crisis management mode and we have been for too long,” Yoho said. With the big fights now put off until December, there’s no way to know who will have the upper hand in those future negotiations. “Heck, I don’t even know how it’ll play out at the end of this week.”
Conservatives pointed out that the debt ceiling showdown had been building for months. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin began using so-called extraordinary measures last spring when the debt limit snapped back into place after a previous suspension. He’d warned it would need to be raised in the fall.
Ryan said Hurricanes Harvey and Irma accelerated that timeline.
“We all thought we had more time, obviously, to deal with the debt-limit issue, and that’s before the hurricanes hit,” Ryan said Thursday. “So the president made a game call yesterday that he thought it is in our country’s interest to have a bipartisan support in a bipartisan package to deal with these ongoing hurricane disasters.”
A senior GOP aide also pushed back against complaints that House and Senate GOP leaders didn’t have a plan to deal with the debt limit. This aide, who asked not to be named when speaking about private conversations, said the operating plan had always been the White House’s strategy: a longer extension of the debt limit with no conditions attached.
Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C. (Photo: Walker)
Even so, fiscal conservatives have been drafting spending proposals since last year that they say could have made a suspension or increase of the debt limit easier for Republicans to swallow. In May, the House Freedom Caucus, a tightly knit group of three dozen members, began demanding that Republicans act before a month-long recess in August to address the debt ceiling, paired with policies that would reduce government spending over time.
When asked what Ryan should be doing differently, Mark Meadows, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the Freedom Caucus, said the House needs longer-term plans, especially for passing measures like the debt limit in a way that reflects conservative priorities such as cutting federal spending.
No ‘Conservative Solution’
“The administration’s been talking about a clean debt ceiling for many months,” Meadows said Thursday at a Bloomberg News event. “If there’s not a conservative solution out there for raising the debt ceiling, why should we be surprised?”
The Republican Study Committee, which has 155 members, sent a letter to Ryan Thursday outlining 19 policy options, including caps on mandatory spending and work requirements for federal benefits to win their votes on a debt-limit measure.
“We’re not just reacting to this now,” Mark Walker of North Carolina, who heads the conservative group of lawmakers, said about the debt limit. “We’ve been talking about this for months.”
Ryan himself is no stranger to many of these proposals. A statement on his own website outlines the changes that accompanied debt-limit increases under three previous presidents.
“For decades, the White House and Congress have used the debt limit to find bipartisan solutions on the deficit and debt” the 2013 statement says. “In fact, every major effort to deal with the deficit over the past 30 years has been tied to the debt limit.”
On Thursday, it appeared that Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky were again caught flat-footed by Democrats negotiating directly with Trump.
Scrapping Debt Limit
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California told reporters on Thursday she thought Congress should do away with the debt limit all together. Minutes later, Ryan stood at the same podium in the basement of the Capitol building and dismissed that possibility, saying that he thinks the “power of the purse is legitimate.”
The power of the purse usually refers to the ability to authorize government spending, as outlined in Article One of the constitution.
Almost simultaneously, Trump told reporters at the White House that there are “a lot of good reasons” to get rid of the debt limit — again siding with Pelosi and undercutting Ryan.
There are no overt challenges to Ryan’s leadership as of now — in part because it’s such an unenviable job to be in charge of wrangling this Republican Party and this president. But the repeated setbacks have cast significant doubt about whether Ryan and McConnell can deliver on their top priority of a tax overhaul.
Awaiting a Tax Plan
House Republicans are frustrated that no tax plan has been discussed with them, even though Ryan wants one signed into law before the end of the year. The GOP vote-counting team is still trying to find out if they have enough votes in their own party for the budget resolution needed to unlock the procedural maneuver they intend to use to pass the tax plan with 50 votes in the Senate.
Yoho said he, for one, won’t vote for that budget resolution until he sees the legislative text of the tax bill. Renacci, who is a member of the Budget Committee and the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, said he plans to vote “no” on the budget until he sees guidelines that would actually allow for a tax bill to get through.
For now, tax discussions are still in the domain of the so-called Big Six — Ryan, McConnell, House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas, Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah, Mnuchin and Trump’s economic adviser, Gary Cohn.
“The Big Six are meeting, and Ways and Means is waiting to see what they come up with,” Renacci said.
— Read Republicans’ New ACA Replacer, Dissected on ThinkAdvisor.
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