Impeachment dominates, but much other work awaits Congress

It’s a volatile, difficult-to-predict time in Washington as lawmakers end a two-week break

Impeachment may have leapfrogged to the top of the national agenda, but members of Congress still have their day jobs as legislators, and they’re returning to Washington this coming week with mixed hopes of success.

It’s a volatile, difficult-to-predict time in Washington as lawmakers end a two-week break. The notion that President Donald Trump could do much significant dealmaking with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, his impeachment antagonist, could be fanciful, given Trump’s impulsiveness and demands for border wall money.

An important trade agreement pact has a pulse. An effort to deal with high prescription drug prices seems stuck.

Pelosi, D-Calif., is aware of the political imperative to avoid looking tied up in impeachment while leaving the rest of the nation’s business hanging. At a recent news conference she solicited questions on topics such as trade before turning to impeachment, reminding that the Democratic-controlled House has sent bill after bill to the GOP-led Senate, which has done little else but vote on presidential nominations for months.

Divided government has produced scant results thus far, except for a small-scale budget deal that lawmakers are struggling to put in place. The next few months could prove make or break for high-profile agenda items such as an updated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, a full slate of spending bills and prescription drug legislation. Pelosi insists impeachment doesn’t have to harm the legislative agenda in Washington.

“They have nothing to do with each other,” Pelosi said earlier this month. “We have a responsibility to uphold our oath of office, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. We also have a responsibility to get the job done for the American people.”

The atmosphere isn’t exactly brimming with optimism. Hopes for a near-term breakthrough on trade, one of the few items on which Pelosi and Republicans are in general alignment, faded after AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued a combative warning against a speedy vote on the new North American pact.

On spending, negotiators are trying push through a $1.4 trillion package of agency spending bills to fill in the details of this summer’s budget-and-debt accord.

Experienced bargainers such as GOP Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, are taking the lead on that but lingering bitterness over the U.S.-Mexico wall fight threatens to again delay a resolution. That’s particularly so after Trump’s attacked lawmakers’ traditional power of the purse by raiding military construction projects to finance wall construction.

Given the uncertainty, lawmakers may end up doing what they do best: Kicking the can down the road.

Months-late enactment of the annual agency appropriations bills is increasingly common in Washington, and it’s clear that another temporary government-wide funding bill will be needed when the current one expires in six weeks. Likewise, there’s no hard and fast deadline for ratifying an important trade pact with Mexico and Canada that an administration priority.

Pelosi supported the original North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, as did the current House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Rep. Richard Neal, who has forged a good relationship with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Pelosi and Neal, D-Mass., had been making cautious but optimistic assurances about the long-delayed trade pact, which is being held up in large part over Mexico’s efforts to toughen labour standards and limit U.S. job losses.

A green light from labour would make Pelosi’s job much easier, so the outlook for the trade agreement soured considerably when Trumka warned that labour would work to kill it if House Democrats tried to rush a vote.

“If there was a vote before Thanksgiving, the agreement would be defeated,” Trumka told The Washington Post.

Steve Elmendorf, a lobbyist who cultivates close ties to Democratic leaders, said that before Trumka’s remarks, there seemed to be a sense of progress and that lawmakers would have liked to hold a vote before the holiday. He said that if Pelosi “can get a good deal, she is completely capable of compartmentalizing this and a bunch of other issues in a different lane than impeachment.”

What does need to pass before Thanksgiving is another short-term measure to prevent a government shutdown. That would buy more time for lawmakers to try to negotiate a full package of spending bills.

Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have a proven track record as negotiators who can deliver. But Trump could upend the situation at any time. He’s at least given negotiators the green light to try to find a way to an agreement.

The glass half-full take is that both Trump and Pelosi need legislative victories heading into next year’s elections. Pelosi has a slew of freshmen Democrats from swing districts with lots of middle-of-the-road voters, while Trump hasn’t delivered on many bread-and-butter issues since his 2017 tax cut bill.

Talks on prescription drugs face considerable obstacles, however. McConnell has promised to stop Pelosi’s bill is its tracks, but a bipartisan Senate bill has divided Republicans and faces big hurdles of its own.

There’s another factor that tilts the playing field toward delay: There is plenty of time. Unlike the burst of legislating that occurred on the cusp of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in the fall of 1998, Congress can still wrap up its work next year.

Andrew Taylor, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Saanich’s 20-year-old acting mayor encourages other young people get involved in politics

There is a ‘hunger for young voices’ in politics right now

Designs for Johnson Street Bridge waterfront areas hit delays

Upgrades to the Songhees Park, surrounding area being presented Thursday

Personal health scare inspires Sidney’s newest gym

Arne Jackson said the scare was a ‘wake-up call’

Abortions rights advocates urge Liberals to turn politics into policy

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was pressed to clarify his stance abortion over several weeks

Greater Victoria 2019 holiday craft fair roundup

Get a jump on your holiday shopping

POLL: Do you support CUPE workers in their dispute with School District 63?

SD63 schools to remain closed as strike continues Tuesday

Closing arguments begin in B.C. case launched in 2009 over private health care

Dr. Day said he illegally opened the Cambie Surgery Centre in 1996 in order to create more operating-room time

MacLean says “Coach’s Corner is no more” following Cherry’s dismissal from Hockey Night

Cherry had singled out new immigrants in for not honouring Canada’s veterans and fallen soldiers

MacKinnon powers Avs to 5-4 OT win over Canucks

Vancouver battled back late to pick up single point

Poole’s Land finale: Tofino’s legendary ‘hippie commune’ being dismantled

Series of land-use fines inspire owner Michael Poole to sell the roughly 20-acre property.

Port Alberni mom takes school district to court over Indigenous smudging, prayer in class

Candice Servatius, who is an evangelical Christian, is suing School District 70

Family of B.C. man killed in hit-and-run plead for tips, one year later

Cameron Kerr’s family says the driver and passengers tried to cover their tracks

Most Read