What’s Going On in Washington This Week?

crystal-ballCongress remains in recess this week as Senators and Representatives are back home campaigning. Sunday’s presidential debate set the stage for a week of bizarre political theater that left my head spinning. I’ve lost track of who’s un-endorsing whom, and the other Republican infighting.  Meanwhile on the Democratic side of the presidential campaign, who is able to keep up with the hour-by-hour revelations of the leaked Clinton e-mails?  After 25 years in public life, alas, Hillary, we hardly knew thee!  At the NCPA, we wish the two campaigns would spend more time talking and debating about the policies that will improve the nation: Economic growth, taxes, entitlement reform, healthcare, energy, national defense and security.  For the upcoming presidential debate on October 19, join NCPA’s experts on Twitter for live analysis of the debate and free-market policies that work. www.twitter.com/ncpa.

Looking forward. My crystal ball hasn’t been functioning properly as of late…ever since the George W. Bush Administration, really.  Nevertheless, there are probably only a handful of possible outcomes after the November 8 election:

President Clinton and a Republican Congress. If Secretary Clinton becomes president and the Republicans retain the majority in Congress (even if they only retain a majority in the House of Representatives) we can probably expect at least four more years of the same: budget impasses, fiscal cliffs and last-minute bargains.  President Clinton would likely try to continue many of the tactics of President Obama and the Congressional Republicans would likely dig in their heels in opposition.  The chances of doing something substantive and positive on tax reform or entitlement reform would be almost non-existent, although the imploding Obamacare program will probably require the White House and Congress to strike some sort of bargain on health reform, no matter who becomes president.  And even if the Republicans lose the majority in the Senate, the House GOP would block almost every Clinton initiative, while Senate Democrats would likely block any conservative bills from going to the White House.  Like President Obama has done, President Clinton would probably try to use executive orders to bypass the opposition in Congress.  There is already some indication she would try to impose more gun control through executive order.

President Trump and a Republican Congress. If Donald Trump becomes president and the Republicans retain the majority in Congress, look for an early attempt to pass a budget reconciliation bill that repeals Obamacare.  The budget reconciliation process is not subject to Senate filibuster, so the legislation would almost certainly end up on President Trump’s desk for his signature.  The same strategy might be used for tax reform and a host of other conservative issues related to the budget.  Senate Democrats would use the filibuster as much as possible to block other pieces of legislation, so Republicans would have to sharpen their skills at forcing Democrats to cast difficult votes.  The main obstacle, at least during the first few weeks, will be the horrible relationship that exists right now between Republican leaders and Donald Trump.  Mending fences would be a major priority for both the White House and Congress.  And even if the Republicans retain a majority in Congress, it is likely that their numbers will diminish in both the Senate and the House.  A narrow House majority will force Speaker Ryan to cut more deals with House Democrats on budget and appropriations issues.  And a narrow Senate majority (perhaps even a 50-50 split) will give Democrats disproportionate power using the filibuster.

President Clinton and a Democratic Congress. If Hillary Clinton wins the White House and Democrats gain a majority in Congress, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), a strong ally of Clinton, would become the Senate Majority leader and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) would become Speaker of the House.  Congressional Democrats would move quickly to enact much of the Clinton agenda in the first few weeks and months of 2017.  Senate Republicans would use the filibuster to block as much legislation as possible, however the Democrats would likely use the budget reconciliation process to avoid the filibuster.  There could even be an attempt in the Senate to change the rules so that Supreme Court nominees are not subject to a filibuster.  Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) would roll over in his grave (if he hasn’t already, after the last few years of extensive filibustering). Under this scenario, Republicans would be hard pressed to go back to the drawing board and reformulate the party.

2018 and 2020. No matter the outcome of the November 8 elections, I know one thing for certain:  On November 9, the election cycle will begin again almost immediately, with all eyes focused on the 2018 mid-terms and the 2020 presidential election.  No need for a crystal ball to predict that!

A few other things happened during this relatively quiet week in in the nation’s capital:

  • The U.S Circuit Court of Appeals for DC ruled that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is unconstitutional. Nevertheless, they left the CFPB largely in-tact, subject to presidential oversight (thus solving the constitutional problem), but with all of the regulatory power they had before. This will open the door to many future lawsuits attacking the CFPB.
  • The United States officially blamed Russia for tampering with the 2016 election.
  • The President announced he wants to send humans to Mars by the 2030s.
  • And since this week’s announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature, it seems fitting to close with a line from Bob Dylan’s Political World: We live in a political world/ Wisdom is thrown in jail/ It rots in a cell/ Is misguided as hell/ Leaving no one to pick up a trial.

Brian Williams is the NCPA’s Legislative Director.

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