The clock is ticking and Trump should be very worried about it, for a week that may see shutdowns and defeats. Despite some symbolic victories and good progress, his tax reform bill is still hanging on a knife’s edge. The needs to cut deals and bargain for votes is an improvement from the repeal of Obamacare, but it is setting moderates against far-right members and fiscal hawks are looking edgy. A more worrying date is next Friday, December 8th, when the federal government shuts down unless the debt ceiling is raised.
Trump’s tax reform bill is a sweeping overhaul but it holds a lot of details and fine print that leaves some unsure. A meeting with congressional leaders and wavering Senators may have helped a little, as will the fact that the bill has passed through the Senate Budget Committee. On the other hand, the bill is still causing concern amongst fiscal hawks like Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, and John McCain. All three Senators are retiring and all three are concerned about the bill raising the deficit. Corker voted the bill through the Committee but is still undecided about supporting it on the Senate floor.
Trump has hardly helped matters by insulting Elizabeth Warren’s heritage by calling her “Pocahontas” at a military ceremony celebrating Native Americans, no less. Such attacks throw his tax-reform message off the airwaves and make it harder for wavering supporters to back him. Most of the political deadlock approaching Trump right now is of his own doing, but more on that later.
The biggest problem is that the GOP is too divided to pass any complex kind of reform. Every tweak or modification, no matter how small, will please one group but displease another. Ron Johnson and Steve Daines are the only two Republicans planning to vote no so far. If even one more Senator votes against it, the bill is dead and Trump will have no major legislative victory until 2018. The stakes are high as at least seven are undecided.
So far, early bets place a third ‘no’ on John McCain who is growing frustrated that he hasn’t been able to read the bill due to the constant changes. Jeff Flake is also a likely ‘no’ since the bill still plans on raises the deficit. Even so, many in the GOP are anxious at letting another major legislative victory turn to defeat as the mid-term elections draw closer.
Despite calling his meeting with Congressional Republicans a success, Trump is still clearly nervous as the bill is too close to call. Sadly, he has other problems that threaten his party’s future. Problems that he himself has created.
You may recall that, in the heady days of summer and autumn, Trump did a deal with Democrats to move the debt ceiling debt further down the line and review the subject of ‘Dreamers’. That deal never had much of a chance, but Trump unwittingly allowed his political enemies to hand him a ticking time bomb. Both chambers need to agree on a spending bill by December 8th or the federal government will be forced to shut down.
According to some sources, lawmakers haven’t come close to an agreement on spending limits, meaning that a stop-gap funding plug might be needed until details can be thrashed out. The row over DACA makes things more difficult as Democrats push for provisions of DACA to be protected before they offer any support. Some on both sides want some agreement reached before the end of the year, as ‘Dreamers’ are set to be deported, starting next March.
Republicans want immigration to be treated separately to any talks over the debt ceiling but if Trump brings up his wall again or defense spending caps aren’t raised, then the GOP is in for a real fight. The last thing they want is the problem pushed even further down the line.
Once again, Trump didn’t help matters by Tweeting about him looking forward to a meeting with Democratic congressional leaders while also saying that he saw no hope of a deal. As a result, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer pulled out of the meeting, vowing to negotiate with top Republicans directly rather than the President. This presents Trump with a problem since regular GOP defections and the need to circumvent the Senate’s filibuster means that, this time, he really needs the support of the Democrats.
The House has 12 days to figure out the debt ceiling while the Senate has 15 days to figure out tax reform and the debt ceiling. The special election in Alabama on December 12th will provide some early Christmas fireworks in the meantime.
Trump has a make-or-break week ahead of him. His fate, the fate of his party, could be decided in the next few days. If he succeeds, he staves off a growing civil war. If he fails, and Alabama turns blue, all bets are off.
The clock is ticking.