President Trump's Surprising Legislative Prowess and What to Expect Until Election Day
With our calendars now turned to June, we have arrived at the seventeenth months of President Trump’s first term. Amidst all the controversy, investigations and tweeting of the Trump presidency, it can be easy to overlook, or even to disregard, the GOP’s legislative prowess since last January. Even the President’s allies have sounded the alarm. At the end of last year, a headline in The American Conservative blared “Trump Dumps the Do-Nothing Congress”. The truth, though, is quite different.
President Obama’s first year-and-a-half in office were heralded by plaudits and critics alike as an extremely active legislative period. The economic stimulus and the Affordable Care Act had been shepherded through Congress and signed into law. A much-heralded equal pay bill was enacted. Various new laws were implemented to stave off the financial crisis and help Americans save their homes.
But, for all the fanfare afforded to the first months of the Obama administration, President Trump actually signed more pieces of legislation into law than his predecessor had at the same time in President Obama’s first term. And by an objective measurement applied by National Journal, President Trump has actually signed a higher proportion of impactful, non-ceremonial bills into law than did President Obama:
(As a brief aside, but to put these data points in historical perspective, the 80th Congress, infamously dubbed by President Truman as the “Do-Nothing Congress” – the origin of the phrase – passed 906 bills into law between January of 1947 and January of 1949. The last Congress, the 114th, passed roughly one-third that many bills into law between January of 2015 and January of 2017.)
Though President Trump and the GOP have been more successful in enacting legislation than they may be receiving credit for, this trend is unlikely to continue as we head in earnest into the mid-term election season. Wanting to provide their members as much time as possible to campaign for reelection, Congressional leadership has scheduled only the House 63 days of session for the House between now and Election Day. Barring a decision by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to cancel the Senate’s August recess, the Senate will be in Washington for all or part of 91 days between now and November 6. So what are the bare essentials of governing that must be considered before Congress leaves town?
Both the farm bill and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) must be reauthorized. The current farm bill, enacted in 2014, expires at the end of the government’s fiscal year on Sept. 30. With concerns on both sides of the aisle over the farm bill’s price tag and partisan rancor flaring up over Republicans’ desire to attach reforms to social programs, including work requirements, to the reauthorization, a short-term extension with no policy riders is likely.
The NFIP expires at the end of July, and will have to be reauthorized amidst heavy criticism of the Trump administration’s response to Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, which, aside from the enormous human toll caused by the storms, put the program deeply in debt. Eager to head back to the stump, expect a short-term, temporary extension to the NFIP as well.
Lastly – and despite the fact that it feels like we just escaped this hamster wheel a few short months ago – Congress must find a way to fund the federal government by September 30 to avoid another shutdown. Though the House has passed a handful of spending bills for various government agencies, the Senate has not considered any, making it extremely likely that Congress will punt the issue a lame-duck session after the mid-term elections. If you feel like you’ve heard this analysis before, you’re right. According to Pew Research Center, you’d have to go back to 1997 to find a time when Congress has passed more than a third of its regular appropriations bills on time. It’s been two decades since Capitol Hill has performed successfully its most basic constitutional duty of exercising the power of the purse.
Of course, this year’s spending saga looks like it could be even more dramatic than years past: President Trump has repeatedly threatened to shut down the government if his border wall does not receive full funding, and Democrats are extremely unlikely to support any bill that does so.
So, as the polls tighten and make it difficult to predict with any certainty which party will emerge victorious on Election Night, bet on this: the spending battle in Washington will extend beyond November’s election.