Congress goes on break, President Trump awaits big progress on agenda

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 27: U.S. President Donald Trump listens while meeting with women small business owners in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on March 27, 2017 in Washington, D.C. Investors on Monday further unwound trades initiated in November resting on the idea that the election of Trump and a Republican Congress meant smooth passage of an agenda that featured business-friendly tax cuts and regulatory changes. (Photo by Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is approaching the end of his first 100 days in office without having signed a single major bill into law.

President Trump’s drive to repeal and replace the Obama-era health law ran aground in the House in spite of Republican opposition to the overhaul. It was the first time in recent memory that a newly elected president’s initial big proposal had imploded so spectacularly.

The confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court stands as the only major victory for Republicans so far.

Congress left Friday for a two-week spring break. Looking ahead, prospects for health care are at best dicey, while other initiatives such as a tax overhaul, infrastructure spending and carrying out President Trump’s unpopular proposal for spending cuts aren’t ready for prime time yet.

“In the first 70 or so days I haven’t seen much” in the way of Capitol Hill success for President Trump, said Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo. “They’ve had a big, colossal failure with their so-called health care repeal. So I don’t think it’s been much of a success.”

From the view of Republicans, Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., said: “If we want to have durable, sustainable reforms in this country, whether tax reform, health care or anything else, it will need to be done on a bipartisan basis. Everybody knows that.”

The president’s victories have been limited chiefly to rolling back about a dozen regulations issued by President Barack Obama, which Republicans say will relieve businesses from the burdens of compliance costs. The measures, which can’t be blocked by Democrats, have repealed regulations on coal mining near creeks and streams, and limiting methane emissions from oil wells on federal lands.

“We believe that, so far, that benefit to the economy is over $10 billion,” said top White House lobbyist Marc Short, though he added that those benefits would be spread out over 20 years. Other repealed regulations involve hunting regulations in Alaska, allowing states to drug test people seeking unemployment benefits, and potentially allowing internet providers to sell the browsing habits of their customers.

Beyond those measures are a handful of others, including a routine NASA authorization bill and legislation to make permanent a program that encourages private sector technology experts to temporarily join federal agencies to lend their expertise.

None of these accomplishments has gotten much attention amid blaring headlines on investigations into alleged ties between the President Trump campaign and Russia, the meltdown in the GOP-controlled House over health care and repeated reports of President Trump missteps and White House infighting.

“Obviously, (health care repeal) is pretty hard to do, and if the House is able to send something over to us, we’ll take it up and it will be hard here as well,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters on Friday.

What’s more, the legislative terrain is only going to get more difficult.

President Trump and GOP leaders face an enormous test at the end of the month, when Congress returns to confront an April 28 deadline to avert a government shutdown. At issue is a barrelful of leftover spending bills totaling more than $1 trillion, as well as the $33 billion President Trump requested in emergency money for the Pentagon and border security.

GOP leaders assume that Democratic votes will be needed to pass the measure — certainly through the Senate and probably through the House. Negotiations are ongoing but could prove tricky since Democrats oppose President Trump’s wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and argue that domestic programs should get additional money if the Pentagon does.

President Trump insisted throughout the presidential campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall. Now, the administration has asked U.S. taxpayers to finance it.

And within weeks, House and Senate GOP leaders won’t be able to schedule any more filibuster-proof bills to repeal Obama regulations, leaving the Senate’s legislative schedule in flux.

When Congress returns at the end of the month, the focus will return to health care, though hard feelings among House Republicans and reports of discord between House GOP leaders and top White House officials have dampened hopes.

And a promised effort to overhaul the government’s loophole-ridden tax code has gotten off to a slow start.

Despite the administration’s fits and starts, President Trump’s allies remain upbeat.

“Government funding is the next critical hurdle. Health care is still going to be on the table, and I’m confident we’ll get that done. But then we’re going to move right into one of the critical issues, which is tax reform,” said Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y. “We’ll get it done. We’re going to learn a lot from the health care situation.”