The Hill reports that Congress, having passed a $1.5 trillion tax cut in December and a $1.3 trillion spending package just last week, isn’t sure what to do next. Lawmakers may turn to infrastructure, but there’s no agreement on how big the plan should be or how to pay for it, whatever the size. Immigration and gun violence are hot topics among the American public, but there’s little interest in addressing them legislatively before the election this fall. And although Obamacare premiums are expected to jump again in 2019, lawmakers left a stabilization plan out of the omnibus bill and the issue will likely be shelved for now.
Lawmakers may lack a clear plan to pass meaningful legislation, but that doesn’t mean Congress plans to sit on its thumbs until election day. Instead, Republicans are hatching a plan to bring taxes and the budget back into the spotlight in the next few months, though perhaps more to score political points than to actually get something done.
First, Republicans want to push for a second round of tax cuts, focused on making the temporary individual tax cuts permanent. However, there is no plan to use the reconciliation process to pass the cuts, which means they will need Democratic votes in the Senate to get the job done. Since there’s very little chance that enough Democrats will join in, the push for more tax cuts will likely be more symbolic than substantial – and that may be just what Republican are counting on. GOP lawmakers can portray the proposed cuts as a defense of the middle class, while daring Democrats to vote against them. “Can you imagine Democrats voting that down? I mean, how do you explain that one?” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told Politico.
Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur reports that Republicans are considering holding a vote for a second round of tax cuts on April 17, when taxes are due this year, for maximum publicity.
The second part of the developing GOP strategy is to push for a balanced budget amendment. Critics will note that Republicans have run up an enormous amount of red ink in the past few months, making it an odd time to start talking about a law that requires a balanced budget. But there may be political points to score on that subject before the election. Here’s Politico’s take: “It’s almost election season, and it would be helpful if GOP lawmakers could go home and be able to say they voted to support balancing the federal budget, even though they voted boosted discretionary spending by a ton, and have not touched entitlement spending, which, they have said for years, is the driver of U.S. budget deficits.”
And if that seems too cynical, it’s worth noting that even the conservative Washington Examiner has much the same view: “That’s probably the real reason Republicans are introducing a balanced-budget amendment now. They need something to perk up those conservative faithful, something shiny to lead them back to the polls one more time after being let down again and again. This amendment is just the gimmick,” the Examiner wrote Wednesday.