It's weeks like this when Democrats need to remind themselves that with Donald Trump in the White House and a Republican majority in Congress, they not only have to walk and chew gum at the same time, they have to do it blindfolded on a tightrope. They're looking at a potential nuclear event on the Korean peninsula, a historic meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin in which anything could happen, a global confab with 20 world leaders and the necessity to prevent the legislative atrocity of the GOP health care bill.
All that is on top of the ongoing trickle of news about the Russia investigation and the various horrors emanating from the executive agencies that would normally inspire headlines and protests of their own. The news media will flit from one thing to another, and is especially drawn to its own ongoing war with the White House, which is somewhat understandable.
It's a lot to keep up with. Indeed, the assault from every angle, while haphazard and chaotic, may succeed in some areas simply because it's impossible to defend against all of it.
But let's not forget that the Republicans are also facing a monster agenda that is even more unpopular than their president, who consistently hovers around a 35-to-40 percent approval rating. First of all, they have been getting an earful from their constituents over the July 4 break. And it hasn't been pretty. In town hall after town hall, Republicans have had to try to explain to angry and terrified citizens why they are considering voting for a plan that, according to polling by USA Today, finds approval from only 12 percent of the population.
Meanwhile, we have newly anointed health care experts Ted Cruz and Rand Paul offering "alternatives." Paul, with an assist from the wily right-winger with a smile, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, wants to just pull the plug on Obamacare tomorrow and then think about something different sometime in the future. Maybe. He confidently assures us that those people who depend upon it will be happy that the Republicans granted them freedom from life-saving health care. Cruz, on the other hand, seems to be attempting to unconvincingly morph from a radical obstructionist to a conciliatory mediator with a "compromise" that everyone knows will still amount to vast numbers of uninsured people accompanied by pain, suffering and financial catastrophe. (So naturally conservatives on Capitol Hill are warming to it.)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has undoubtedly been losing some sleep over the past few days. He's facing an unpalatable choice. He's going to have to try to pass something among the awful plans on offer, making his vulnerable 2018 senators even more vulnerable -- or he's going to fail to pass something among the awful plans on offer, making his vulnerable 2018 senators even more vulnerable. And there is nothing more important to McConnell than keeping control of the Senate in 2018.
Then there's the House, the moderate members of which held their noses and voted for their version of this health care monstrosity with the promise that they were going to "fix it in the Senate." That didn't happen. Indeed, in some ways the Senate bill is even worse. But the House Freedom Caucus has already put the leadership on notice that the Senate bill is unacceptably generous and they're demanding more cruelty or they are out.
That doesn't mean Republicans won't pass the health care bill in the end, of course. Enough members could easily conclude that they are in a lose-lose situation so they might as well get their tax cuts. But lets just say that it's not getting any easier.
But that's not the GOP leadership's only problem, however. The longer the health care bill takes, the further back they have to push the other important items on their agenda, including the 2018 budget resolution and the conservative holy grail: tax reform.
According to Stan Collender in Forbes, unlike in previous years when the budget was pushed back with continuing resolutions, Republicans face disaster if they don't pass a budget this year.
Unless they decide to change the procedures, the entire Trump/GOP legislative strategy relies on Congress adopting a 2018 budget resolution that includes reconciliation instructions to the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees to do tax reform.
A budget resolution will also provide the Senate with the legally required guidelines on how much it can appropriate next year. Without that it will have trouble moving forward.
You see, Republican leaders had a plan, but it hinged on pushing their health care reform bill quick and dirty through the House and then the Senate so they could immediately jump to the budget and set the table for tax reform. The problem now is that House Republicans are at each other's throats over spending priorities, to the point that the House Budget Committee had to cancel its planned mark-up session. The Senate hasn't even scheduled one yet.
And then there's the debt ceiling, which comes up again in August -- although most people think there will be enough money to fund the government until October. As Collender notes in his piece for Forbes, the problem is that nobody trusts Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's numbers, or anyone else's coming from the Trump administration, and the required "clean" debt ceiling vote will be a tough lift, even with the GOP in full charge of the government. According to Niv Ellis at The Hill, only 16 current GOP House members backed the last such debt ceiling vote and not many will commit to doing it again. Democrats certainly have no reason to bail them out after the way Republicans behaved the last time this came up under President Obama.
Needless to say, nobody knows what kind of a mess Trump and his minions will create in the middle of all this. Recall that during the campaign, Trump said the country should just default on the debt and then "renegotiate," the same way he used to refuse to pay vendors, then offer them a pittance and tell them to sue him if they didn't like it. It's conceivable Trump might even veto his own party's debt-ceiling legislation.
All these votes ahead, and there will be many of them, will be misery for the GOP Congress and its leadership in particular. They only have themselves to blame for that. Republicans have spent years building a majority full of extremists and obstructionists and they just helped elect a man who has no idea how government works and seem to have no capacity to learn. What did they expect?