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Managing Expectations

Managing Expectations
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Dear Reader —

During the Obama years, complaints from the party faithful that the GOP-controlled Congress was unable to thwart the administration’s agenda, much less pass conservative legislation, were often met with the following response: Without the White House (or a veto-proof majority), there is a limit to what congressional Republicans can accomplish. However true, this response had the inadvertent consequence of pinning impossibly high hopes to what a GOP Congress could accomplish if a Republican won the presidency. 

The problem is that having a willing executive — or even a supermajority — is not sufficient. The procedures needed to get such a bill on the president’s desk are positively baroque, requiring complex parliamentary tactics, compromise, cajoling, bargaining, and old-fashioned persuasion. The fanfare around the GOP’s failed Obamacare repeal has recently shed some light onto this often frustrating process. Inject some hyper-polarization — both between the parties and within them — and you get the kind of dysfunction that has paralyzed our Congressional politics now for years.

It is in this context that Republicans are tackling tax reform — which they hope can provide a rallying point after multiple failed attempts at health-care reform.

The difficulty is that our system of government precludes simple majority rule. So to pass tax reform the ordinary way requires either a filibuster-proof majority (which Republicans lack) or getting some Democrats on board. The latter would not produce the kind of conservative package Republicans hope for. So GOP leaders plan to fall back on the tried but not necessarily true method of budget reconciliation — the parliamentary procedure they attempted unsuccessfully to use to repeal Obamacare.

Created by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, budget reconciliation in principle allows Republicans to pass tax reform with only 51 votes, avoiding a filibuster. But that gives them little wiggle room when it comes to rank-breaking — something that proved fateful in the health-care negotiations. In addition to the usual intra-party give and take, there are also substantial constraints on what type of legislation can be passed using reconciliation — thanks to the “Byrd Rule,” an amendment passed by Congress in 1990.

In the case of tax reform, these constraints may prove decisive. A tax bill passed using reconciliation must be “revenue neutral,” or else expire after 10 years. This is a budgetary requirement, which holds regardless of whether conservative economists are right that long-term growth will ultimately make up for short-term revenue losses. Speaker Ryan is still holding out hope for a revenue-neutral bill, though more conservative members will balk at this idea.

Meanwhile, Congress must now pass a budget in order to open up a path for reconciliation. And though ostensibly routine, budget negotiations will doubtless pose their own political challenges. Republicans might do well to manage expectations. 

These are some of the many issues taken up at RealClearPolicy over the past week. Below you will find just a few highlights.

— M. Anthony Mills, editor | RealClearPolicy


What’s Missing from the GOP Tax Plan. In our own pages, Andrew Wilford urges Republicans to permanently allow businesses to recover costs for capital investment. 

The Republican Tax Plan Is a Deficit-Busting Mess. In Vox, Edward Kleinbard critiques the new GOP tax proposal. 

A Road Map to Bipartisan Health Care Reform. Also in our pages, James C. Capretta urges Republicans and Democrats to work together on long-term fixes. 

The Ongoing, Quiet Repeal of Obamacare. In The Atlantic, James Hamblin contends that despite Congress’ failed repeal-and-replace efforts, the Trump administration is nevertheless “dismantling” the law. 

Obamacare Is Failing the Middle Class. In RealClearPolicy, Scott Flanders asserts that “the invisible hand of the market is more compassionate and equitable than any government system devised so far.”

Reinventing Washington’s Broken Budget Process. Also in RCPolicy, Sen. David Perdue and Rep. Doug Collins call for a bipartisan effort to overhaul the federal budget process.

America’s Natural Disaster Response Is Its Own Disaster. The New Republic’s Emily Atkin makes a case for reforming the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

The Supreme Court Must Protect Patent Rights. In our own pages, Alden Abbott warns that the Patent Trial and Appeals Board, established by the America Invents Act, is weakening the U.S. patent system and stifling innovation.

It’s Time to Base Nutrition Policy on Science. In RealClearHealth, Richard Williams asserts that the FDA and other federal agencies continue to make poorly informed decisions.

The Racial Wealth Gap: An Old and Enduring Legacy. Also in RealClearPolicy, Rejane Frederick contends that persistent economic challenges faced by African Americans cannot be understood apart from our country's racial history. 

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