The probable versus the promised as power changes in Washington

The 115th Congress kicked off on January 3 with Republicans in control of both the legislative and regulatory agenda in Washington — at least as much as a party without the magical 60 votes in the Senate can be. What was unimaginable for GOP leaders on election day is now tantalizing close, but only if President-elect Trump and Congressional Republicans can get and stay on the same page.

Whether or not the new president and Congressional Republicans will be able to work together to implement most of their respective agendas, there is no doubt that they share a goal of reversing much of the work of the Obama administration. The current president’s legacy is surely under siege and it will be illuminating and instructive to see how hard Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other Congressional Democrats will be willing to work to protect the former president’s achievements.

To that end, January will be the start of a very busy first few months of the new Congress as the Congressional Republican agenda is loaded. It starts with repealing Obamacare, although it’s not yet clear how long a transition period Republicans will propose. It also remains to be determined whether or when Republicans will offer a replacement alternative for those who will lose insurance coverage when Obamacare is repealed.

Once Obamacare is addressed, the candidates for legislative action are virtually endless as what for many years was simply the Congressional Republican wish list is now squarely within the realm of the possible. It involves such issues as undoing much of Dodd-Frank; reversing the Obama administration’s climate change agenda; making fundamental changes in immigration policy designed to strengthen the border and curb illegal immigration; moving away from global trade deals and toward bilateral agreements; substantially increasing defense spending while getting rid of the sequester and ending the policy of parity between defense and domestic discretionary spending increases; reforming the tax code perhaps through a border adjustment tax, nominating conservative judges to serve on the Supreme Court and all across the Federal bench; and making profound changes to federal personnel practices, including withdrawing various protections from federal employees, to make it easier to fire or discipline those employees whose performance is considered unacceptable or substandard.

Republicans will use all the parliamentary and executive authority available to them to pursue their goals. Under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate is expected to use Budget Reconciliation, a parliamentary tactic that only requires a simple majority in the Senate to end debate, as part of the effort to force the more controversial measures through the Senate floor and to the President’s desk. Beginning within minutes of his January 20 inauguration, the new tenant of the Oval Office also is expected to use his pen to undo Obama Administration Executive Orders and force the review of regulations the prior administration put into law.

The coin of the realm in Washington remains floor time in the Senate. There is no more precious commodity to an Administration’s agenda. When one reviews the President-elect’s agenda, pairs it with the agenda of the House and Senate leaders, and adds into the mix the left-over appropriations work from the 114th Congress that still must be addressed, one quickly realizes that the 115th Congress is setting up to be one of the busiest in recent memory. Notice we said busiest, we didn’t say productive, because the Democratic Senate Minority, particularly those Democratic Senators in states that President-elect Trump carried and who are up for reelection in 2018, will have significant sway over how much of this aggressive agenda finds its way to the president’s desk.

It is also critical to consider that not all Republicans, and this is especially true in the Senate, are necessarily in favor of the sweeping agenda the President-elect proposes. We are beginning to see this in the debate surrounding the repeal of ObamaCare, as GOP members in both chambers begin to question the necessity for immediately repealing with no replacement bill ready for floor consideration. Moreover, if President Trump elects early in his term to offer anything that looks like the massive infrastructure proposal he spoke of during the presidential campaign, we will see an early test of whether the conservative core of the House Republican conference view the Trump spending proposals as a bridge too far and not what they signed on for when they stood for election. We will likely see similar fissures surrounding immigration reform, trade policy and tax reform to name a few. As is true in all things, the devils are in the details.

We’ve added the chart below as a guidepost for what currently looks to be in the realm of the possible for the President-elect and his Republican colleagues. We would suggest that you “buckle up” as the rhetoric, pace and tweets coming out of Washington are likely to be at break neck speed in the coming months.

Trump Campaign Promises
Don’t need Congress Might need Congress Needs Congress
Approve Keystone XL pipeline Stop funding for “santuctuary cities” Repeal and replace Obamacare
Cancel payment on UN climate programs Renegotiate or withdraw from NAFTA Repeal Dodd Frank
Choose Supreme Court Nominee Impose tarrifs on companies moving overseas Build a wall
Act against foreign trade abuses Deport undocumented immigrants who have commited crimes End Common Core
Freeze Federal hiring   Pass a security bill
Label China a currency manipulator   Cut taxes
Leave Trans-Pacific partnership   Pass an infrastructure bill
Limit federal regulations   Pass an ethics bill
Overturn protections for certain undocumented immigrants   Restrict lobbying by former members of Congress
Propose term limits for Congress   Pass a child care bill
Roll back environmental regulations   Pass a law enforcement bill
Suspend immigration from “terror prone regions”   Confirm a new Justice (Senate only)
Tighten lobbying restrictions on Executive Branch employees   Term limits for Congress
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John R. Russell, IV

About John R. Russell, IV

John Russell is a member of Dentons' Public Policy practice. Focusing on federal advocacy and strategic communications, John worked for nearly a decade on Capitol Hill, serving on the leadership staffs of a speaker, a House majority whip and the chairman of the House Campaign Committee. In his career, John has worked both extensively and effectively in the legislative, communications and campaign arenas.

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