IRS code (what Speaker Paul D. Ryan is after).
Trump’s big idea for scoring a bipartisan win, having the federal government leverage $1 trillion in infrastructure spending, is getting “unveiled” this week even though the legislative details are weeks, if not months, from getting off the drafting table.
And his progress toward filling the top 560 or so key positions in his administration is at a crawl, in part because Democrats have slowed the pace of Senate confirmations to a couple a week (just 7 percent of the jobs are filled) but mainly because Trump has made choices for just 15 percent of the open positions.
Back to the routine?
In theory, the GOP Congress has the capacity to change the subject a bit by writing and advancing routine budget bills in June and July.
Working in the lawmakers’ favor is their collective disinterest in considering a critical mass of the president’s proposed budget cuts. Republicans on the Hill have a broad range of opinions about government’s proper size and role, but only a minority of the most confrontational conservatives wants to hobble as many domestic programs as Trump has in his sights.
The internal Republican accord more or less ends there. Some would back selective cuts to social programs if they help offset the 10 percent increase in military spending that Trump wants. Others embrace the idea of a Pentagon boost without getting passionate about any real changes to domestic spending. Still others in the GOP align with Democrats in advocating modest increases for nondefense as well as defense programs.
But no matter how the discretionary spending pie gets sliced, its size will be limited to $1.065 trillion in fiscal 2018, a level set under the sequestration laws of the past decade. That would be 1 percent less than what’s getting spent on regular appropriations this year — but fully 8 percent below the grand total in the omnibus spending package belatedly enacted last month, which simply decreed that a whopping $78 billion in defense spending would not count toward the statutory caps.
As a matter of practical politics, the so-called topline number will have to be increased before the appropriations process can conclude. But there is nothing procedural to prevent the House from advancing bills now and adjusting the bottom lines later.
The most creative solution, for both making some headway and making some headlines, was advanced last week by Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia, who at the start of his fifth term has taken the gavel on the Appropriations subcommittee that takes the lead in setting funding levels for the Treasury, the federal courts, White House operations and a hodgepodge of regulatory agencies.
Rather than persevere in the fiction that all 12 bills might even start down the track toward enactment independently, Graves has proposed that the rough drafts assembled by each subcommittee in the coming weeks be combined into a single measure and put to a vote by the entire House — essentially advancing to the summer, from the winter, the inevitable abandonment of a regular order that’s been nitpicked to death in favor of a gigantic, take-it-or-leave-it omnibus.
The advantages to throwing the Hail Mary pass on second down, rather than as the clock runs out?
If it’s written cleverly enough to articulate a consensus GOP view of what the government’s spending priorities should be — which would mean settling a lot of internal feuding behind closed doors — the behemoth might actually win passage, albeit with entirely Republican votes.
Even if the bill is entirely a messaging document, that triumph of political discipline could enlist the praise of the president and then catapult the GOP toward functionality on other fronts.
And even if the measure is dead on arrival in the Senate, where the Democrats would have the clear desire and the absolute power to thwart it by filibuster, the availability this summer of a legislative vehicle on which to negotiate might even spur an earlier-than-expected start to the inevitable deal-making that really matters on such spending packages — between the White House and the leaderships of both parties from both sides of the Capitol.