Only 50 days into the Trump administration, Republicans are getting wobbly at the knees on major issues that helped propel the GOP into congressional majorities and the White House.
In the span of only four days this week, Republicans leaders poured cold water on passing tax reform by August, on quick reform of the much-abused H-1B worker visa program, on repealing a controversial Obama-era amnesty program for young illegal immigrants, and on a complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
“The Republicans should get this tax bill signed … The longer the delay, the worse the tax bill will be. Delay is the enemy of tax reform.”
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Politico Wednesday that “finishing on tax reform will take longer. We do have to finish the health care debate … before we go to taxes.”
When Fox News pressed him on Thursday as to the health care debate, which is also taking longer than expected, McConnell said the issue is one of magnitude.
“This is hard,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “This is not easy.”
McConnell’s tax remarks caused some dyspepsia on Thursday, as “delay” is often Washington code for “no.”
Thus, it was a long week for Republicans. Their leaders are telling them to wait. Some Republicans feel let down, others feel impatient. Wasn’t the election of 2016 a historic approval for major GOP reforms?
On Thursday, the White House pushed back on delaying tax reform past August.
“We feel very confident that we’re going to get a lot done … continue to get a lot done this year,” said White House press secretary Sean Spicer. “Tax reform is high on the president’s priority list.”
But the White House is also slow-rolling some major reform items.
On Thursday, Breitbart News reported there will be no immediate reform to the H-1B guest-worker visa program. The H-1B program allows as many as 85,000 foreign workers to come to the United States to work.
The program is controversial and has been accused of being corrupt. And in 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump criticized the program, highlighting an incident at the technology department at Walt Disney Co., at which American workers were replaced with Indians with H-1B visas.
Spicer also was asked about President Trump’s plans to repeal an executive order issued by President Obama that gave protected status to children of illegal immigrants who were brought here when they were young.
Many of the so-called DREAMers are adults now with no legal immigration status, but Obama allowed them a two-year work status that also permitted driver’s licenses. Trump promised on the campaign trail he would move immediately to repeal the “amnesty,” known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
So far, Trump has not moved on DACA. Spicer occasionally gets questions about it at press briefings. On Thursday, Spicer would only say the White House would have a “full comprehensive” look at DACA.
Privately, according to reports, Trump has suggested that he feels DREAMers can be made legal as some part of a “grand bargain” on immigration.
Building a wall along the southern border obviously means much more to Trump, but the $14 billion price tag has made some Republicans nervous. On top of that, Republican senators with large Hispanic populations in their state are obviously making political calculations.
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“As far as the wall goes, I believe we have to have border security, but I do think billions of dollars on a wall is not the right way to proceed,” said U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), speaking to a constituent. The audio tape was obtained by Politico.
Gardner, considered a freshman rising star, has made oppositional remarks to the wall before. He faces re-election in 2020 in a state with a growing Hispanic population who may not like the idea of a large wall along the border with Mexico.
It is perhaps tax reform that concerns Republicans and conservatives the most. With repeal of Obamacare underway — as flawed as the initial bill may be — it was generally assumed the GOP-led Congress would also deal quickly with the U.S. corporate tax rate, the highest among industrialized nations.
“The Republicans should get this tax bill signed,” said Stephen Moore, a senior fellow in economics at The Heritage Foundation and the co-founder of the Club for Growth. “Delay is a problem. The longer the delay, the worse the tax bill will be. Delay is the enemy of tax reform.”
Moore noted that President Reagan signed his historic tax bill in August 1981, only months after taking power, and with a Democratic House majority to boot.
Moore said investor gains made in the market could be lost later in the year if Wall Street feels the GOP is not moving on tax reform.