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Two Paths You Can Go By

Written by John Feehery

The President has two paths he can go by when it comes to achieving his legislative objectives.

He can insist on a partisan approach or he can insist on a bipartisan approach.

He chose the first path when it came to health care, and it didn’t work out well for him.

Will he choose a bipartisan approach to tax reform, immigration, infrastructure, the budget, the spending bills and the debt limit?  Or will he try using the same strategy that delivered him an embarrassing set-back on the Obamacare roll-back.

The problem for the President is that there is little evidence that Republicans can actually deliver on their campaign promises, given their thin majority in the Senate.  The gulf between moderates and conservatives has never been wider, and Senate rules makes governing with just 50 votes almost impossible.

The President has insisted in the past that the Senate change its rules to allow for a simple majority vote, but it is highly doubtful that an institutionalist like Mitch McConnell will go for that approach.

Using reconciliation to pass tax reform seems to be the favored strategy for Senate Republicans, less so for the Trump White House.  But that comes with some pretty big downsides.  You can’t cut taxes permanently under Senate rules, which means any tax reform has to plausibly pay for itself inside the budget window.  And getting to 50 votes is not a sure thing, even for an issue as popular with the GOP base as tax cuts.

Here is a radical idea:  The President should demand that Congress produce bipartisan legislation.  He should threaten to veto anything that doesn’t garner significant Democratic support in the Senate (let’s say 20 votes) and in the House (the same number).

Yes, the House is more partisan, and getting Nancy Pelosi to support Trump on anything seems pretty impossible, but there are at least 20 responsible Democrats who want to deliver something for their constituents.

Instead of demanding that the Senate change its rules, he should demand that the Senate change its approach.

The beauty of that demand is that it immediately takes the pressure off of Mitch McConnell to unify his conference and puts the pressure on Chuck Schumer to actually participate in the legislative process.

The President should start with the budget process, including the spending bills and the debt limit.

He should tell Chuck Schumer that he won’t sign anything that doesn’t get 20 Democratic votes.

Yes, that gives the Minority Leader some leverage, but it also gives him some responsibility to govern.

That means he needs to come up with 20 votes for the debt limit and for the Omnibus spending package.  If Schumer doesn’t deliver, the government shuts down.

Sure, the hard right would hate this strategy, but it would also free them to vote no.  And we all know that the hard right has very little interest in voting yes on anything.  They have proven that time and time again.

The President can then move on tax reform and he can say clearly that he wants a tax cut, that he doesn’t want a tax cut for the rich, that he wants to include in that tax cut some infrastructure spending, and that he wants to make permanent changes to the tax code.  Nothing temporary.

A tax cut would be better than a revenue neutral tax package because it would be better for economic growth.   And plus, getting to a revenue neutral package inevitably pits industries against each other.

If Republicans can work with Democrats to pass a permanent change to our tax laws that include a reduction in the corporate rate so American companies stay in America, that don’t cut taxes for rich people but do cut taxes for the middle class, and does inspire a lot more infrastructure spending, that would be a huge winner for the President, for the country and for the economy.

And if Democrats say that they don’t want to work with the President to grow the economy, create more jobs, build more roads and give workers the first real pay raise in a generation, that would make for a nice campaign issue for the midterm elections, where there are plenty of Senators from the minority party running for reelection in states that turned red in the last election.

Do-nothing Democrats has a nice ring to it.

About the author

John Feehery

John Feehery is President of Communications and Director of Government Affairs for Quinn Gillespie and Associates, Washington, D.C.’s top public affairs firm. He is also a frequent commentator on the political landscape, widely quoted around the country and often seen on such television programs as CNN’s The Situation Room, MSNBC’s Hardball, and Bloomberg Television’s Money and Politics. He is also a columnist for The Hill.

Feehery has worked for almost two decades in a variety of influential positions both as a staffer for three prominent members of the United States House of Representatives Republican leadership and a legislative strategist in the private sector.

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