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The Path Forward After DHS

Posted on March 6, 2015
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"John Boehner" by Gage Skidmore - Flickr: John Boehner. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


(This originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal’s Think Tank)


When push comes to shove, Congress will find a way to avoid disaster on big issues. The funding of the Department of Homeland Security shows that a bipartisan majority in Congress will coalesce to pass things that are necessary. The debt limit, the Highway Trust Fund, and the Medicare reimbursement “fix” for doctors are all in that category.


It is less clear, however, whether the House or the Senate can pass a budget. The budget resolution, which does not get signed by the president, typically is a partisan exercise. And because the GOP seems to be hopelessly fractured in both houses of Congress, it would be a heavy lift to assemble enough votes to pass a budget in either body, let alone reconcile the two versions.

Tax reform and trade are also likely to be tough, though both issues have a path forward. Compromise could be reached, driven by interest in stopping corporate inversions and spurring economic growth, as well as the fact that U.S. companies pay the highest tax rate in the world. Trade seems to be an issue that President Barack Obama wants to accomplish in his final two years, and Republicans traditionally like to pass trade agreements.

Immigration is hopelessly mired in partisanship, and it’s hard to see how either body will make any significant progress. Democrats who desperately wanted movement on the issue in the last Congress now are supremely content to see Republicans flail around on this, offending Hispanic voters ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

Some smaller issues also have a path forward. A bipartisan majority is possible to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank and to reauthorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. 

It’s not clear yet what will happen with Obamacare, though if part of the health-care law is invalidated by the Supreme Court some lawmakers will want to ensure that insurance subsidies continue flowing to enrollees.

House Speaker John Boehner is likely to be forced to go to the brink on many of these issues, as governing by crisis seems to be the only thing that gets negotiators’ attention and some in the GOP appear prepared to go over the edge. It’s clear that the speaker can’t count on the “House Freedom Caucus” and that he will be forced to find votes wherever he can to avoid disaster, even if that means working with colleagues on the other side of the aisle. His record shows that given the choice between disaster and compromise, Mr. Boehner prefers compromise.