Tuesday, December 12, 2017
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Congress in Session


Source: U.S. House of Representatives

Vacation is over and while children trudge off to school, this month, Congress will return for a ruthless and unsparing September were both houses of Congress face an ambitious agenda with a dispersal set at the end of the month.

With the House in session for 12 of those days and the Senate in session for 18, there is not enough time to pass multiple bills and amendments and decide whether to continue funding for several important program’s. Although dominating Congress, the Republican party is so divided that it could not even pass a bill to repeal Obamacare earlier this year. Thus, it is very unlikely that much will be accomplished in this short period. The stakes are also higher this time around, for what happens at this reconvention will set the tone for the 2018 midterm elections, ultimately deciding whether Trump has a Republican or Democratic Congress for his term’s last 2 years.

The ambitious plan includes several action items that must be completed before members of Congress go their separate ways. Part of the agenda is considering Hurricane Harvey relief for people displaced by the terrifying hurricane. Hurricane Harvey has been a test for Trump and so far Mr. Trump has visited many shelters and offered aid to many American’s with his administration proposing a 7.85 billion dollar immediate “relief package” for affected communities. With consent from Congress, they can start to help at least 500,000 Texans who have applied for aid from the federal disaster agency.

But before Congress starts its usual bickering, it must work out a plan for how to finance the government. Unfortunately, it must also juggle the strenuous task while also paying its bills using this year’s federal funding running out on September 30th. A government shutdown would be eminent if Congress and the White House fail to agree on a long-term budget who must then also pass another continuing resolution (short- term measure) that maintains current spending levels. If Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling the government will not be able to raise the money it needs to pay back bills. As a result, America would lack funds to service its existing debt to other countries as soon as early November. This could mean a rise in America’s borrowing costs and the inevitable problem of the world moving away from the American dollar as a safe (reserve) currency.

We all know of Congress’s ability to pass a bill like the one that still hasn’t repealed Obamacare and with tensions flaring between president Donald Trump and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, the Republican Party is crumbling. Trump has taken to harassing McConnell on Twitter and relations between the White House and other Republicans in Congress are so damaged that some have started to openly criticize Trump. This will be an obstacle for Republicans as they gather the votes needed to pass bills and measures.

Amongst their problems funding will expire for the Federal Aviation Administration (oversees civil aviation), the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and the National Flood Insurance Program and without congressional action will be discontinued. Children’s Health Insurance Program has wide but facile bipartisan support, but the rest of the programs are very controversial amongst Congress. President Trump has put forth a plan to privatize air traffic control which is currently a Federal Aviation Administration responsibility but it is very unlikely to pass. His proposed budget will cut National Flood Insurance to help pay for his desired border wall, but the program might be saved by the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Among its loaded agenda, Congress, must also meet the demands of President Trump who is pushing them to take up tax reform. After the failure of Trump’s healthcare law, the White house seized on tax reform as it’s “legislative goal”. According to the magazine Economist, Mr. Trump’s administration has proposed a “business tax rate” of 15%; the current tax rate is at 35%. It is unclear where exactly Trump stands, but his administration seems intent on relying on “its” congressional committees to get their work done by making ideology a policy.

Congress will need to be more productive than ever to get through this formidable schedule. Knocking tax reform, funding for programs, government spending, and Hurricane Harvey relief out of the park is a must. With an aggressive president pushing them and a watchful public, Congress must carefully negotiate and avoid obstacles to please the American people.