As the seat of government, Congress is where most of the legislative achievements are made. It’s never always stylish because most of the laws and bills that pass through are very technical and detailed, dealing with subjects that are important on their own, but usually drowned out in the noise. Most people notice the big achievements or the key bills that determine the fate of parties, leaders and even nations.
Despite its hallowed status, the people who make or repeal those laws are only human and represent their own communities. They are responsible for putting bills forward or making sure they die before they can do much damage. More importantly, like any job, there is only so much they can handle at once. While time isn’t always an issue, the amount of work they can reasonably expect to do is.
Donald Trump’s impatience and desire to succeed means that Congress is often working against the clock. That, in itself, is a major problem. In failing to repeatedly repeal Obamacare, Congress has wasted valuable time. Trump Executive Orders can only do so much. Effective though they are, Congress is the be-all and end-all in terms of lawmaking. The failure to repeal Obamacare has cost the GOP precious time that they no longer have and fatally wounded the party. The splits and convulsions will haunt the leadership and hurt further legislative actions.
Take tax reform, for example. Trump’s new legislation aims to go much further than Ronald Reagan but its narrow win in the House and the growing discontent and slender majority in the Senate means that tax reform is in for a rocky road. The tax code of any modern country is incredibly complex and needs detailed analysis and discussion. However, Obamacare came first and now Congress has weeks to discuss this key proposal before Republicans need to focus on mid-term elections in 2018. The vague details of the bill and the competing narratives over who will benefit most will make passing it difficult.
Unfortunately for the GOP, Trump has given them several nooses to hang themselves with. Following his deal with the Democrats last month, discussions over the debt ceiling have been moved to December. The deal is in tatters, but the threat of a government shutdown is hanging in the air. The fact that it might occur in the weeks before Christmas (the debt ceiling was raised until December 8th) is going to sting badly. Democrats are hoping to push for a fix to the DACA and ensure that ‘Dreamers’ are not deported while Trump will push for funding for his new border wall and his national security package. The GOP will have to decide who to bargain with or be condemned for a government shutdown just before Christmas.
Surely that would be enough to leave the leadership sweating, but no! Trump has thrown a spanner into these works as well by venting his frustrations via Executive Orders. By defunding subsides to insurers, Trump has threatened Obamacare’s survival. This has left Republicans with a dilemma: do they let Obamacare die, risking millions of peoples lives? Or do they grit their teeth and defy their president by bailing out insurance companies? Lawsuits have already been filed but this question needs to be answered by Christmas or things will get nasty.
Trump piles on the pressure with his refusal to certify the Iran nuclear deal and forcing Congress own the deal itself. Here, the debate is set against the backdrop of the President of the United States vs Iran, Europe, the US military and Rex Tillerson. Congress is essentially left holding the baby that they didn’t really want. Republicans railed against the deal but now they are responsible for its survival. They have a tight deadline of 60 days to decided whether to let the deal die or salvage its remains. The stage is set for the GOP to tear itself apart over a very delicate issue that they decried but must now fix themselves.
All these problems have ticking time bombs attached to them. Every debate over tax reform competes for disappearing space over Obamacare’s survival, judicial appointments, the status of the ‘Dreamers’, the debt ceiling and examination of the deal with Iran and the possibility of future sanctions. Add to this the fact that the latter case is destined to set America against its own allies and the true scale of Trump’s disastrous presidency is clear.
To President Trump, the solutions to America’s problems are deceptively simple and Congress is just a hindrance to his big dream of fixing everything. But the government is not run like a business. It can be slow and ponderous, ill-suited for a man of action, but it is necessary for democracy to actually work as intended. Surely Trump must have realized this when he first ran for office. Evidently, he hasn’t and now he is unleashing his fury and frustrations on the Consitution he swore to uphold, on the democratic systems that elected him and even the party who, somewhat reluctantly, backed him.
Congress is struggling to keep up with its obligations. Caught between an impulsive amateur and an angry base, time is running out for Congress to give Trump a win and find any workable solutions. Some are even reaching the conclusion that neither is possible and they are probably right.
Sooner or later, something has to give. Everything will fall apart. When it does, the Republicans will have no one to blame but themselves. They wanted power, now they got it and so they must bear the consequences.
And if they thought this year was bad, 2018 is going to be much worse for them.