Normal human beings who use 12-month calendars tend to think of late February as very early in the year. But in 2018, there are growing signs the Republican pols who run Congress would like to wrap things up pretty soon and devote themselves to reelection campaigns and other activities remote from actual governing.
Yes, between now and March 23 they have to implement the budget deal they struck in conjunction with a fifth and final stopgap spending bill early this month. But that’s mostly appropriations busywork. And after that, there are no more spending, budget, or debt-limit controversies they’ll have to worry about. GOP congressional leaders have already pretty much ruled out a budget resolution for the next fiscal year, or any reconciliation bill based on it that might carry controversial “entitlement reform” initiatives, as much as hard-core conservatives might want them.
The president, of course, has acted as though his dubious “infrastructure” proposal was an urgent national priority. But now the No. 2 member of the Senate GOP leadership, John Cornyn, is allowing that the Senate’s “packed agenda” may well make it impossible to get around to infrastructure legislation, which also has nothing like the bipartisan support it would need to be taken up in any event. (The idea that the Senate’s agenda is “packed” with much of anything after March is laughable.)
But wait: Isn’t Congress on the brink of a big, historic debate over gun legislation? Not if House Speaker Paul Ryan has anything to say about it (and he certainly does), reports Politico:
House GOP leaders downplayed the need for Congress to pass expansive new gun control measures on Tuesday, instead turning their ire on the FBI and local law enforcement for failing to prevent the Parkland, Fla. school shooting.
Besides, the House has already passed a bill making small improvements in the gun-purchasing background-check system, which also includes a big fat poison pill in the form of legislation undermining state restrictions on concealed-carry licenses issued by other states. You can feel the gridlock setting in even from a distance.
What about an immigration deal? Yes, that’s theoretically possible, but Congress and the White House are no closer to a deal than the day the government shut down over this issue. And the freeze two separate federal judges placed on implementation of the president’s executive order revoking DACA (and the Supreme Court’s refusal to expedite appeal of those decisions) means the original March 5 deadline for avoiding DACA’s demise is off the table indefinitely.
So what will Congress do after it wraps up appropriations bills? Here’s a good idea from the Bloomberg article that discussed the Senate’s “packed agenda,” composed of items that will either soon be resolved or that may not see action until the end of time:
Lawmakers also will be turning attention to their re-election campaigns before the November congressional elections, which will decide control of Congress.
Bingo. Expect some short weeks and long recesses in the Capitol as the rest of the country applies elbow grease to the many challenges of 2018. There will be plenty of time after November to govern. And as the great survivor Scarlett O’Hara famously said at the end of Gone With the Wind: “After all, tomorrow is another day.”