GOP plots big Trump agenda despite past missteps



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Senate Republicans hoping to win full control of Congress and the White House are crafting an ambitious legislative package that would go far beyond extending former President Trump’s tax cuts.

The legislation, being cobbled together for budget reconciliation rules that would sidestep a Senate filibuster, would need to win the support of most or all elected Republicans to become law. That could be a difficult prospect, especially in a narrow majority. 

Both parties, when they’ve had control of the House, Senate and White House, have had difficulty unifying their members around mammoth packages. As recently as earlier in President Biden’s first term, Democrats had to lower their goals when centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (I-W.Va.) — who was still a Democrat at the time — and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) balked at their ambitious plans. 

Republicans themselves had a lengthy push to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2017 that came up empty-handed when the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) issued his famed thumbs down that forced the party to Plan B. They ended up passing tax reform months later. 

But GOP leaders are undaunted. 

“You have to be realistic about what you can get,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), one of three Republicans hoping to be Senate majority leader next year. “But I do think you want the bill to be as robust as possible and to accomplish as much as you can in terms of the agenda.” 

“It’s a work in progress,” Thune continued about the talks. “But obviously, we’re giving a lot of thought and consideration, and having conversations with folks on the House side about what might be doable and what’s realistic.”

Talks about the package were highlighted earlier this month when the Senate GOP conference met separately with Trump and Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.).

Topping the list for the party is extending the cuts that were instituted under the GOP’s tax reform package in 2017. And most Republicans want to go further, floating cuts to mandatory government spending to shrink the federal deficit, as well as a significant boost to defense spending.

Some are also looking into other priorities they could roll into a potential reconciliation package, including provisions related to the border. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who also is looking to succeed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) atop the conference, told reporters after the meeting with Johnson that the Speaker made clear that House Republicans “want to try to go big,” meaning “more than just extending the tax cuts.”

“It sounds to me that the House is going to have a very ambitious appetite for the budget,” Cornyn said of a possible massive blueprint. “It’s going to be the art of the possible.”

But the ghosts of past failed reconciliation efforts — and the precious time they cost the party in charge — haunt some members.

Democrats were left with only a fraction of Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which was initially released with a $3.5 trillion price tag, then was slashed multiple times before Manchin delivered the kill shot against the massive proposal. Democrats ultimately landed on the nearly $900 billion Inflation Reduction Act, a far less expansive bill than their initial plans. 

And top Republicans have made clear repealing the ACA isn’t part of their plan after their failed 2017 attempt to overturn the 2010 law that has bedeviled the GOP ever since it was passed. 

“For the people that were here … it’s in the back of your mind,” said one senior Senate GOP aide about the ACA repeal attempt, noting that they “vividly” remember where they were when McCain voted against it.

“But I think what has changed between then and now is that things come and go a lot faster,” they said. 

The aide also noted that a number of seats have turned over since the ObamaCare repeal attempt, with the newer lawmakers having no memory of those arduous months. Roughly a quarter of the Senate GOP conference was not in Congress at all when they sought to do away with the ACA.

Budget reconciliation could also be a key tool for the party to get a major increase in defense spending. Democrats have long opposed increasing funding for the Pentagon without “parity” for nondefense and social spending programs.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who is in line to chair the Senate Armed Services Committee if Republicans retake the majority, has proposed increasing defense spending from 2.9 percent to 5 percent of gross domestic product over the next five to seven years. McConnell has thrown his weight behind that idea.

“That, in my view, is absurd,” McConnell said of the Democratic insistence for parity. “It doesn’t reflect current needs.”

Republicans insist they are not putting the cart before the horse by talking about the reconciliation possibilities more than half a year out from when the 119th Congress comes to session. They say the discussions are necessary, especially at a time when members have almost fully moved into campaign mode. 

“I am glad the Speaker is thinking proactively about being prepared to hit the ground running on Day One,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said. “Historically, the first 100 days [of a presidency] can be very consequential, and planning and forethought is tremendously important.” 

But the nascent plan hinges on Republicans achieving control of the House, Senate and White House, and those outcomes are up in the air.

Trump has held a slight edge over Biden in battleground polls, though the two are neck and neck.

Republicans are widely expected to take control of the Senate, though there is a very real chance they win only 50 or 51 seats, putting them in a similar spot to where they were in the first year of Trump’s single term. 

The GOP would need to keep control of the House, an outcome that is more of a jump ball. According to the Cook Political Report, 210 seats lean Republican or better, with 203 tilting in the direction of Democrats, and 22 seats potentially deciding control of the body. 

“The first step is we need to have a Republican president, a Republican House and Republican Senate,” McConnell told reporters last week, “or there will be no reconciliation at all.” 

“It is an important tool,” he continued. “We hope to have an opportunity to use it.”



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