Republicans Have A Lot On Their Year-End To-Do List

Nov 27, 2017
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Now that Thanksgiving break is over, members of Congress are back in Washington and hoping to overhaul the tax code before Christmas. That means the Senate needs to pass a bill this week to stay on the timetable. And on top of that, Congress also has to pass a bill to fund the government by next Friday to avoid a shutdown. Tracking all of this is NPR congressional reporter Scott Detrow, and he's with us now. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, Kelly.

MCEVERS: All right, so this sounds like a pretty tight timeline. Let's just cut to the chase. Is this Republican tax bill going to pass in this timeframe or not?

DETROW: So at the moment, Republicans are feeling very confident. Here's Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey earlier today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PAT TOOMEY: I am confident that we're going to get this done soon, get it to the president's desk. And the president is eagerly looking forward to signing it.

DETROW: But you know, the story of 2017 in Congress is Republicans' narrow margin in the Senate. Just a couple defections could tank the whole thing. So a couple of people to keep an eye on - Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona. They are two Republican voices who have been very critical of President Trump and coincidentally have said they're not running for re-election. Both have said they have major concerns about how this tax bill will increase the deficit. And if they're both noes, Republicans can't lose any other votes. One piece of good news for Republican leaders today was that Rand Paul of Kentucky, who is often a holdout who doesn't like to compromise much, has said he is supporting this bill.

MCEVERS: All right. So Republicans have some work before the Senate can actually vote on the bill, right? And yet the parties say they do want to vote this week. How is that going to happen?

DETROW: It's going to be a busy week. We'll have a sense of what happens when tomorrow when President Trump visits Capitol Hill to talk to Senate Republicans to lay out the timeline. But if they want to vote by the end of the week, they'll need to begin the procedural process very early. You're going to see a lot of late nights in the Senate with amendments being offered. And given the concerns of Flake and Corker and a couple other Republicans, we'll likely see some changes to this.

Now, the reason they need to move fast and want to move fast is there are still more steps even after the Senate approves this. Because the Senate and House will have passed different versions, they're going to need two to hash out an agreement and then both vote on it again.

MCEVERS: And the tax bill of course isn't the only thing they're working on, as we said. Give us a quick rundown of what else is on their plate.

DETROW: This could fill up the rest of the program (laughter), but I'll keep it short and do the highlights. The Children's Health Insurance Program has already ran - run out of money. That expired in September. States have been using creative budgeting to keep that going, but many states are starting to hit a deadline. And 9 million children get health insurance through CHIP. Some of them might run out of coverage very soon if Congress doesn't do something.

There's a law authorizing foreign electronic surveillance that expires. President Trump has asked for about $44 million in additional emergency funding for hurricane and wildfire recovery. And, oh, by the way, government funding expires at the end of next week, December 8.

MCEVERS: Oh, that...

DETROW: Yeah.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) That's a big thing on the to-do list, I would think.

DETROW: Just a little.

MCEVERS: So does that mean all these other things that you mentioned including the tax bill would have to be tabled for a while if Congress can't go forward with funding the government?

DETROW: Yeah, and I think tomorrow could give us a good idea of whether this is going to be a month talking about brinksmanship of a shutdown or whether they can get this hashed out pretty quickly. President Trump is meeting at the White House with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders. And if you remember back to September, Trump surprised everyone by very quickly reaching a deal with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to fund the government for several months. So maybe he'll reach a quick deal with them again.

Of course last time around, his Republican allies were frustrated that he gave a lot of leverage to Democrats, which Democrats may be prepared to use right now. It'll be interesting to watch whether Pelosi and Schumer say, hey, we'll vote for government funding if you stabilize Obamacare markets or if you, among other things, put some sort of permanent fix in place for DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

MCEVERS: That's NPR congressional reporter Scott Detrow. Thank you.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.