Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has scheduled a big vote-a-rama today that will culminate with a roll call on a budget resolution. It’s not entirely clear that the vote will succeed, but it’s beginning to look that way now that they’ve secured the support of John McCain. Still, even the president isn’t overly confident.
One sign that they don’t have any margin for error is that Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi came north to be present for the vote, even though he clearly should be in his bed recovering from a nasty urological infection. He was disoriented in the Capitol yesterday and needed a staff member to show him the way to the Senate chamber. It looks likely that Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky will vote against the resolution, and the maximum number of votes the Republicans can lose is two. As of now, it only looks like they will lose one vote, assuming Cochran can remain conscious throughout the vote-a-rama and cast his vote at the end.
Two days ago, I wrote that the Senate Republicans, for their own good, should not approve this budget resolution, because it will set them on a disastrous course. It almost appears that the president agrees with me, but the truth is that he has absolutely no idea what is going on.
I am not exaggerating. As you know, I’ve written more than a dozen pieces this year about the budget reconciliation process and how it can be used to pass tax cuts without the need to get any support from the Democrats in the Senate. I’ve consistently said that the process would either fail or, at best, produce something much smaller in scale than what the Republicans have promised. I’ve repeatedly advised Trump to abandon the effort and work with the ranking member of the Finance Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, to craft a bipartisan bill. I’ve also advised him to couple that with a bipartisan effort to get an infrastructure bill.
In a vacuum, then, I’d praise Trump for what he did yesterday.
President Donald Trump suggested at a meeting with senators Wednesday that the Senate create a bipartisan working group for tax reform, surprising Republicans who’ve been planning to pass a party-line bill, senators said afterward.
As the Senate worked to advance a budget that would set up a partisan tax reform bill on Wednesday, the president repeatedly indicated at a lunch with senators from both parties that he wanted a bipartisan process headed by Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), senators said. While everyone in the room nodded along with Trump’s hopes for bipartisanship, there was no agreement among senators to actually create such a group, which is viewed by some Republicans as redundant to the existing Finance Committee…
…Trump also suggested his tax reform effort will generate so much revenue that it will pay for a massive infrastructure bill, according to one senator in attendance. The senator came away with the impression that Trump is eager to cut a massive deal with Democrats on taxes and infrastructure.
That the president was talking this way on the eve of the big vote in the Senate on the budget resolution indicates that he doesn’t understand what the vote on the budget resolution is intended to do. Yet, there’s that tweet up above from this morning that shows that he’s fully aware that the vote today is “the first step toward massive tax cuts.”
The Republicans’ reaction to the president was 101 proof mystification. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas politely pointed out that the Finance Committee is adequate to work on a tax bill, and that creating a “bipartisan working group” would be redundant. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who sits on the Finance Committee, said “It’s always helpful to have a broad discussion, but we’re also not going to change our schedule. We’re going to get this done.” The committee chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, expressed extreme skepticism about a bipartisan process: “It depends. Sometimes you have people are very sincere. And sometimes you have people playing politics all the time. If you get one of those, it’s tougher. This is touchy stuff here.”
These folks have been setting up today’s vote for months, and the entire premise of the whole process, from beginning to end, was that it would allow them to completely exclude the Democrats. To have the president undermine that premise on the day before the vote has them wanting to commit ritual suicide on the Senate floor.
Here’s the deal. The reason they’re voting on a budget resolution today is so that they can attach budget reconciliation instructions to it that will allow them to pass a tax bill without worrying about a filibuster. If they want a bipartisan bill, then they need to scrap this plan entirely. No Democratic senators are going to vote for a tax bill that is pushed through using the budget reconciliation process because it not only cuts them out of the negotiations (that’s the whole point) but it also limits their ability to debate the bill or offer amendments. Moreover, if Trump wants to couple the tax cuts with an infrastructure bill, he really can’t do that with the budget reconciliation process because he’ll need to overcome a filibuster to get the infrastructure half of it done. Plus, the way the Republicans have frame-worked their tax plan will blow a huge hole in the budget rather than providing extra revenue for roads, bridges, and airports.
If Trump wanted to go this way, and it’s a completely sensible way to go, he needed to have this meeting months ago instead of yesterday. And if he just recently came to the conclusion that this was a good plan, then he ought to be asking McConnell to scrap today’s vote rather than tweeting about how he hopes the resolution passes.
Alternatively, he could tell them to go ahead and pass the budget resolution but to put it in their back pocket to use in case of emergency. But he isn’t doing any of these things because he does not have any comprehension of what is going on around him.
Imagine the scene yesterday as the whole Senate Finance Committee was sitting in the White House conversing with a president who did not know any of their concerns. Ron Wyden was on point when he said, “You look at the [Republican proposal] and you see this Grand Canyon-sized gap. I said, ‘The real challenge, Mr. President, is that there is a very big gap between the rhetoric and the reality that is on a piece of paper.’”
In other words, Wyden was politely pointing out that if the president wants a bipartisan working group, he shouldn’t be wasting everyone’s time demanding a vote on a budget resolution that will authorize a tax bill that no Democrat can or will support. If he wants an infrastructure bill, he can’t go this route. If anything the president was saying was true, everything the Republicans in Congress are and have been doing on taxes should be set aside.
But, for the most part, the senators were too befuddled by the nonsense they were hearing from Donald Trump to know what to say. They might as well have been talking to some guy at the bus station who mutters to himself.