Focus On Capitol Hill

Usually, in Washington, the focus for a legislative agenda starts in the White House, especially early in an administration. (This is particularly true when the majority in both houses of the federal legislature is of the same political party as that of the President.) But not this time.

It was the Republican majorities in the House and Senate that really got the tax cut bill going and kept it going. The President sort of sat back and gave them a blank check. He just wanted a “win” and what that would look like was pretty much left up to legislators on Capitol Hill.

Passing legislation is comparatively easy where tax cuts are the issue… everyone likes a tax cut and nobody really worries much as to how to pay for it. However, when it comes to other matters like putting a national budget together, raising the debt ceiling, dealing with immigration issues, trying to find money for an infrastructure bill, etc. — that is tougher to do. Trying to find a consensus among 435 Congressman and 100 Senators on tough issues is akin to trying to “herd cats.”

According to press reports, the retreat held at Camp David by the President and Republican leadership soon after the New Year revealed the problem of “focus.” The legislative leaders had come to talk with the President about a legislative agenda but, unfortunately, the timing was just a day or so after the publication of the “Fire and Fury” book describing an author’s experience inside the White House. The President’s mind was on the allegations in that book, so not much happened in forging a unified legislative agenda to say nothing of dealing with a pending shut down of the federal government.

Though Republicans control both houses of the Congress, they are having a tough time governing. Their party is fractured between the Tea Party/Freedom Caucus and a more moderate/conservative/traditional Republican brand. Democratic votes were needed to keep the government running. Yet, that doesn’t mean the Democrats had an easy time of it. Conservative columnist David Brooks probably said it best when he wrote cryptically after the vote to restart the government: “Democrats, when you lose a negotiation to a President who doesn’t know his own position, you’ve really impressed me.” The Democrats have their own divisions between the more liberal “progressives” and the “pragmatists” who come from red, purple and rural states.

So where do we go from here? I see more short term “continuing resolutions” needed to keep the government running. Somehow, the Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are going to have to find common ground and initiate legislation. The usual leadership expected from a White House is not going to be coming from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Senate Minority Leader Schumer described negotiating with the White House as trying to negotiate with “jello.” Senate Majority Leader McConnell has also expressed frustration when trying to get decisions from the White House. Maybe it is time for these two leaders of the Senate to negotiate with each other, find and pass legislation which has bi-partisan support, and then send that to the President. He will probably sign it for another “win.”

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.