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5 Big Decisions Republicans in Congress Have to Make Soon

Mar 29, 2017

Reeling from the defeat of their health care proposal last week, Republicans in Congress are regrouping and planning for the coming months. There are budget deadlines to meet and policy issues to tackle, ranging from tax reform to infrastructure.

But prospects for achieving major victories in the coming months looks dim. Many lawmakers are concerned that divisions in its ranks between conservatives and moderates will make it difficult to notch any major achievements in the coming months.

“Things that you assumed could happen automatically, you’d better now spend a lot more time on and make sure they occur,” said Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma.

Many have advocated looking beyond the party’s own ranks and finding common ground with Democrats.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona. “One of the things we need to do — and it’s going to be harder now, because we just failed — is there’s got to be bipartisanship.”

Here are the five issues Republicans will have to work out.

How to defund Planned Parenthood

The government is set to partially shut down on April 28 unless Congress approves a spending package first. Republicans are deciding how many of their policy priorities to squeeze into the proposal without risking a government shutdown.

Planned Parenthood is one measure many Republicans want to see in the spending package due by the end of April. But Democrats could filibuster the government funding bill in the Senate, thereby forcing Republicans to decide whether they want to shut down the government.

That has made House Speaker Paul Ryan wary about defunding it through the April spending package, leading him to suggest defunding the women’s health organization through a budget reconciliation measure instead.

The budget reconciliation will head off the risk of Senate filibuster from Democrats, as it only requires a simple majority to pass the upper chamber.

“We think reconciliation is the tool, because that gets it into law,” Ryan told reporters, responding to a question about Planned Parenthood funding. “Reconciliation is the way to go."

If conservatives in the Republican conference object to Ryan’s delay, however, there could be a fight on the party’s hands.

Whether to pay for a border wall

Another measure that some want to see in the government funding bill next month is funding for President Trump’s proposed wall on the border with Mexico. It is a major campaign promise by the president, and one that galvanized many voters in Republican Congressional districts.

“Does that need to be a presidential priority? Well he’s made it one,” said Randy Weber, Republican from Texas. “Is there support for getting it in there? Unequivocally yes. Can they get it in? I don’t know, we’ll have to see.”

Democrats have firmly objected, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer saying border wall funding would be a “poison pill” that would lead to a filibuster.

Whether to pursue the border adjustment tax

Tax reform is the next big item on the Republicans’ agenda. But rewriting the tax code is notoriously difficult, and there are strong divisions among Republicans about what would work best.

Republican leaders in the House have insisted that the best method would be through a 20% border adjustment which would tax goods consumed in the United States and slash the corporate tax rate. It’s a revolutionary plan that would likely help domestic manufacturers like Boeing and hurt importers like Walmart, but it has enough skeptics in the Senate that it might be a pipe dream.

The conflict is setting up the GOP for another fight.

Whether to end the filibuster on the Supreme Court

It is looking increasingly likely that Democrats will have the votes needed to block the confirmation vote for Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, with Democratic senators from across the political spectrum saying they will oppose President Trump's nominee. That will force Senate Republicans to either back down, or trigger the so-called nuclear option, which would abolish the filibuster on Supreme Court nominees, and force Gorsuch through.

It is a difficult choice for Republicans. Many longtime senators are traditionalists and do not want to change the rules of the Senate. Abolishing the filibuster requires a majority in the Senate, so just two Republicans would need to get cold feet for the effort to fail, and thus sink Gorsuch's confirmation.

Still, even moderate Republicans with a longstanding respect for the Senate's rules are adamant that Gorsuch will get confirmed one way or another. "He will be confirmed," said McCain.

"We will con­firm him. So whatever it takes, we’re go­ing to have to do," Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah told National Journal.

Whether to try repealing Obamacare again

Republicans are not done with their effort to repeal Obamacare. After Friday’s defeat, the House Republicans held a rousing conference meeting, where members committed again to finding a way to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a law that repeals certain regulations and reduces federal expenditures.

What shape that law will take is hard to know, and Republicans have not started drafting new ideas. The old, deep divisions in the party have not disappeared, and the hard-right members of the Freedom Caucus will still want a plan that looks very different from what moderates want.

Still, despite the difficulty of health care and all the other pressing matters President Trump promised to address, many members want to repeal Obamacare first.

“If we just sit up here and play diddly-winks, it’ll hurt us,” said Republican Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia. “I think you need to do health care first.”

”The fact that we did not pass a bill next week doesn’t mean we are not going to pass a bill—I’d love to see it pass next week—but if it’s not next week, then it’s next month,” said Republican Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia.

“Until we decide what we’re doing with health care, everything is going to be a stumbling block,” Republican Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida.

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