Johnson, Trump, GOP plot ambitious agenda hinged on total control of government

Johnson, Trump, GOP plot ambitious agenda hinged on total control of government

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) met with Senate Republicans on Wednesday to begin setting an ambitious agenda for Washington if former President Trump is reelected and Republicans win back control of the Senate and keep their House majority.

GOP lawmakers are growing increasingly confident about their prospects in the November election, given President Biden’s low approval numbers and want to have a bold agenda ready to go in January.

Feeling the Senate majority is within their reach, Senate Republicans are discussing what proposals to include in a special budget reconciliation package — or multiple packages — to get around the filibuster, which requires most legislation to pass the upper chamber with 60 votes.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is running to become the next Senate GOP leader, said Johnson told senators he wants “to be prepared to hit the ground running” if Republicans control the White House and Congress next year.

“He’s pretty clear that they want to try to go big, and that means more than just extending the tax cuts,” Cornyn said.

Johnson pitched GOP senators on tax cuts, spending cuts and regulatory reforms during a lunchtime meeting in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Room just off the Senate floor.

“It’s six months out; we’ve got to prepare,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said of the desire among GOP lawmakers to put together an agenda in case they control the White House and both chambers of Congress in January.

“We’ve got to be able to think through, ‘What are the key issues that we could do?'” he said. “We don’t know what the makeup [of government’s] going to be. The American people will decide that in November, but we should starting talking about it, starting with taxes.”

Extending the Trump-era tax cuts, which expire at the end of next year, is at the top of the list, but Republican senators are also pitching a big increase in defense spending and cuts to mandatory government spending to reduce the projected federal deficit.

Cornyn pitched his colleagues on tackling mandatory spending, which is authorized outside the annual spending bills passed by Congress each year and is growing at a rate of 7 percent annually.

“We’ve tried to deal with spending just looking at discretionary spending. Actually, discretionary spending has not jumped up nearly as much as mandatory,” he said.

Cornyn said both Biden and Trump have made it clear they don’t want to cut Social Security or Medicare, but he says there are other programs that need reform.

“I think it’s worth looking at other mandatory spending,” he said. “It is an entitlement and has been growing at like 7 or 8 percent a year. And so there’s about $700 billion in non-Social Security, non-Medicare mandatory spending that I think we should look at it.

He is also pushing a big increase in defense spending to get around Democrats’ opposition to increasing funding for the Pentagon without “parity” for nondefense and social spending programs.

“I’ve been [paying] attention to what [Mississippi GOP Sen. Roger] Wicker is saying about the need to spend more for defense,” Cornyn told reporters Tuesday, referring to the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and his goal to increase defense spending from 2.9 percent of gross domestic product to 5 percent over the next five to seven years.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who will step down from his leadership position at the end of the year, on Wednesday called reconciliation “an important tool.”

“The first step is we need to have a Republican president, a Republican House and Republican Senate, or there will be no reconciliation at all. It is an important tool. We hope to have an opportunity to use it,” he told reporters.

Some political handicappers now see Trump as favored to defeat Biden and Senate Republicans as likely to return to the majority, given the retirement of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin (I), who recently left the Democratic Party.

An election forecast model released by The Economist on Wednesday gave Trump a 2 in 3 chance of winning the White House. It gave Biden a 1 in 3 chance of victory.

The results are similar to a forecast model from Decision Desk HQ and The Hill released late last month. In that model’s most recent update, Trump holds a 56 percent chance of winning the presidency.

Meanwhile, handicappers see the battle for the House as a toss-up.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report says there are 22 toss-up races in the House, with 11 Republican seats and 11 Democratic seats viewed as most in play.

“The principle focus in the lunch was, if and when we have Republican majorities in the House and Senate, that we should hit the ground running with a positive, progrowth, projobs agenda that focuses on tax reform and regulatory reform,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said after the meeting.

But some Republican senators are trying to temper their colleagues’ expectations for what could be accomplished next year if Republicans control the White House and Congress.

Senate GOP Whip John Thune (S.D.) cautioned that policy-focused legislation that only has a tangential impact on the revenues, spending or the deficit would likely fail to meet the so-called Byrd Rule and would not be eligible to pass the Senate with a simple majority under budget reconciliation.

“The big issue obviously, and one of the reasons he’s here, is to talk about a potential budget reconciliation process,” Thune told reporters.

But Senate rules limit what kinds of proposals Republicans could put into such a package to circumvent a Democratic filibuster, Thune warned.

“You have to keep your expectations realistic about what you can do there. It has to be, obviously, spending and revenue, budgetary,” he said. “We have restrictions over here that the House doesn’t have, to comply with under the Byrd Rule. There’s a lot tighter screen on what you can and can’t do” through the budget reconciliation process in the Senate.

Thune pointed out that the Senate parliamentarian rejected several legislative proposals Senate Democrats tried to fit into a reconciliation package when they controlled the White House, Senate and House in 2021 and 2022.

“There were several things that got thrown out that the Democrats tried to do,” he said.

“They wanted to raise the minimum wage, they had a DACA thing in there and they had their clean power plan. All of those things got knocked out by the parliamentarian,” he said, referring to ambitious plans by Democrats to give migrants who came to the country at a young age a path to citizenship and to reduce power plant emissions.

Al Weaver contributed.

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