WASHINGTON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Tax cuts are looking like a rare win for Donald Trump. The U.S. president’s first anniversary in the White House on Saturday coincides with a possible federal funding hiatus. Slashing corporate taxes was a Republican success. But the shutdown wrangling is indicative of the partisan deadlock to come.
Congressional members sparred on Friday over proposals to authorize stopgap funding until mid-February – the fourth such temporary measure since October, if it happens. Among other things, the negotiations have been caught up in a battle over immigration. Democrats are seeking to protect from deportation an estimated 700,000 individuals who were brought to the United States illegally as children. The Trump administration said in September that existing protections would expire in March this year without congressional action.
At least some Democrats see funding measures – which Republicans can’t pass in the Senate without support from some of them – as one of few areas of leverage. Yet a prolonged shutdown is an expensive way to make a point. The Office of Management and Budget, citing independent forecasters, estimated that the 16-day gap in 2013 knocked 0.2-0.6 percent off that year’s fourth-quarter GDP.
Even if lawmakers arrive at a deal, however, the wrangling is a preview of future rancor. Congress will quiet down later this year as members turn their attention to the fall midterm elections, which might prove bruising for the GOP. The sitting president’s party has suffered in 16 out of the 18 postwar mid-term elections, with an average loss of about 26 seats in the House of Representatives. If Democrats manage to flip the lower chamber or even the Senate they could essentially rule out major legislation, as Republicans did during most of Barack Obama’s administration.
It all suggests that the tax bill, passed last month, might come to be Trump’s equivalent of his predecessor’s signature healthcare reform. The Affordable Care Act became law 14 months after Obama’s inauguration, but the roadblocks to ambitious action hardened from then on. While Trump’s administration wants to push an infrastructure-spending package, congressional leaders have more or less abandoned hopes for major reforms to welfare programs and other items on their wish list. Even for Trump, a self-described master dealmaker, election-year Washington will make for swampy going.
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