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2017 Saw Limited Progress on Trump's Legislative Agenda

  • Michael Bowman

President Donald Trump smiles as Vice President Mike Pence speaks during an event on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Dec. 20, 2017, to acknowledge the final passage of tax overhaul legislation by Congress.

At the end of President Donald Trump’s first year in office, congressional Republicans head into 2018, a midterm election year, with one major bicameral legislative achievement to tout: an overhaul of the U.S tax code that polled poorly in most opinion surveys.

Even so, Republicans have expressed confidence that Americans will value permanent tax cuts for corporations and temporary ones for wage earners once they go into effect next month.

“Results are going to make this popular,” House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said.

“If we can’t sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said.

Democrats predicted the tax bill will haunt Republicans in the 2018 elections.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer take part in a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and other Congressional leaders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., Dec. 7, 2017.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer take part in a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and other Congressional leaders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., Dec. 7, 2017.

“Our Republican colleagues, with this tax bill, have done us [Democrats] a major favor,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said. “The American people will have their chance, in 2018, to reject this philosophy and move our country in a dramatically different direction.”

In his first address to Congress in February, Trump laid out an ambitious agenda for majority Republicans to tackle, including tax cuts, health care reform, infrastructure spending, border wall construction, immigration reform, and expanded educational opportunities.

“If you think of legislation, they [Republicans] have much less to show for unified party control,” Brookings Institution political analyst Molly Reynolds said. “They spent about seven months of the year on a failed effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act [Obamacare]. They are going to have something to show for themselves on taxes, but that process also didn’t go as smoothly as they would have liked.”

Senate Republicans may have more to show their conservative political base than their House counterparts by virtue of the fact that that the Constitution tasks the Senate with confirming presidential nominations. 2017 saw the Senate confirm a record number of right-leaning Trump nominees at every level of the federal judiciary, most notably Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

“This has been a year of extraordinary accomplishment,” McConnell said. “We’ve cemented the Supreme Court right-of-center for a generation.”

FILE - President Donald Trump watches as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy administers the judicial oath to Judge Neil Gorsuch during a re-enactment in the Rose Garden of the White House White House in Washington, April 10, 2017.
FILE - President Donald Trump watches as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy administers the judicial oath to Judge Neil Gorsuch during a re-enactment in the Rose Garden of the White House White House in Washington, April 10, 2017.

What Republicans see as an accomplishment, however, progressives see as motivation to elect left-of-center candidates in November.

“We have seen time and time again that the anti-choice [anti-abortion] GOP [Republican Party] is all too willing to throw women and families under the bus,” NARAL Pro-Choice America, an advocacy group for abortion rights, said in a recent statement. “We’ll keep organizing and mobilizing to hold them accountable in 2018.”

Economic performance is often a key factor in election outcomes. U.S. economic growth accelerated modestly during Trump’s first year in office, and Republicans are predicting even brisker expansion when tax cuts, combined with an aggressive dismantling of federal regulations, take effect.

FILE - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., flanked by Small Business Administration Administrator Linda McMahon, left, and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., speaks to a group of small business owners.
FILE - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., flanked by Small Business Administration Administrator Linda McMahon, left, and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., speaks to a group of small business owners.

“America is ready to take off,” McConnell said. “We’ve had two quarters in a row of three percent growth. The stock market is up. Optimism is high. Coupled with this tax reform, America is ready to start performing.”

Some analysts disagree.

“I could see this [Republican tax bill] backfiring,” American University economist Even Kraft said. “I don’t see it stimulating our economy very much in the short term. In the long term, I see it as being quite negative because it hits at a number of things --higher education, health -- that are crucial ultimately to our long term economic growth.”

President Trump has indicated he expects more action from Congress in 2018, tweeting, “Our team will go onto many more VICTORIES!”

But if Trump’s agenda was largely stymied on Capitol Hill in 2017, history suggests 2018 will be no better.

“We rarely expect Congress to get a lot of things done after the middle of an election year,” Reynolds said. “This is shaping up to be a particularly competitive election in 2018 — there just isn’t that much time available to Congress to get a lot done, and members will be even more wary of casting difficult votes that will be used against them in their reelection campaigns in November.”

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