Congress wrapped up one of its most inglorious weeks in recent memory today, slinking out of town under heavy clouds of scandal. Three members of Congress announced resignations this week, and almost everyone believes there will be more to come.
Meanwhile, leaders of both parties in effect asked for an extension on reaching an agreement on how to fund the government next year, and Republicans’ moment of triumph on taxes was stolen away from them on the recognition that the bill the Senate passed last week suffers from massive drafting errors. Then the White House decided that, for good measure, it wanted to stir the pot a little on the Israel-Palestine conflict for no particular reason.
Here’s what you need to know.
The tax reform hit some snags
It turns out that when you draft your major tax legislation late at night at a rapid pace with little outside scrutiny, you wind up doing some pretty sloppy legislating. Senate Republicans appear to have written a corporate AMT provision that they intended to raise a little bit of revenue in a sloppy way that actually raises a ton of revenue and alienates the businesses who were supposed to benefit from a big tax cut.
- This is not going to happen: Nobody needs to worry that Republicans are going to accidentally repeal the R&D tax credit, as their legislative text seems to do. The party is determined to fix this as part of the conference committee process.
- Why it matters anyway: The drafting errors are a big deal, however, because they foreclose the possibility that the House will simply rubber-stamp the Senate’s legislation. They are really going to need to write a whole new bill.
- What’s next? Democrats and Republicans from both chambers have appointed members to a bipartisan, bicameral conference committee charged with drafting a new bill. In practice, however, Republican leaders will probably write a bill that their conferees then jam through with no Democratic input.
President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
Speaking Wednesday at the White House, President Donald Trump gave a speech, saying, “Today we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.”
- What’s the big deal? Much of the city of Jerusalem as traditionally defined, including the Old City, lies in what’s legally speaking the occupied West Bank. Consequently, the whole international community has for decades taken the position that the status of Jerusalem needs to be determined by negotiations rather than unilateral Israeli moves.
- A big win for Netanyahu: The practical benefits to Israel of this move are nonexistent, but it’s a political coup for Prime Minister Netanyahu. Since the beginning of his term, a big issue in Israeli politics has been whether his hardline approach to the Palestinian issue will lead to Israel’s international isolation — winning symbolic favors from the United States bolsters his case that it won't.
- High risk, low reward: Most likely nothing too terrible will happen to the United States as a result of this. But there’s no real upside for America to the move (which is why previous administrations haven’t done it) and the small chance of destabilizing friendly regimes or upending regional alliances carries big potential downsides, even if they are fairly unlikely.
Al Franken announced he’ll resign
Under considerable pressure from his colleagues, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) announced plans to resign his Senate seat after facing a range of sexual misconduct allegations.
- Who fills the seat? Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to name Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to fill Franken’s seat. There will then be a special election in 2018 — an election that Smith says she won’t run in — to fill the seat for the remainder of Franken’s term. Then there will be another election in 2020 when the term expires. So we are potentially looking at a lot of turnover.
- What’s next? Democrats are using Franken’s resignation — and the earlier resignation of Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) — to focus fire on Roy Moore, Donald Trump, and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), all Republicans credibly accused of misdeeds that are in many cases more serious than Franken’s. Meanwhile, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) is also resigning as a bizarre story has come to light about him reportedly asking female staffers to serve as a pregnancy surrogate for him and his wife.
- What’s really next? Multiple major news organizations are investigating harassment claims on Capitol Hill, and concern is widespread in Congress that many more charges are coming soon.
The government will stay open for a couple of weeks
After several days of intensifying verbal conflict, Democratic and Republican leaders agreed to kick the can down the road and extend government funding for two weeks to avert an early-December showdown. Now we’re on track for a pre-Christmas showdown instead.
- What’s going on? Republicans need some Democratic votes to pass appropriations bills, which gives Democrats some leverage. They want to use that leverage to secure funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, stabilize Affordable Care Act exchanges, or even pass some form of the DREAM Act. Republicans don’t want to do that, at least not without receiving massive concessions in exchange.
- The math: If Republicans were fully unified, they would still need eight Democratic votes in the Senate to break a filibuster. But with many Democrats representing red states, it’s far from clear how hard of a bargain they’d really demand. But Republicans have typically lost the votes of some far-right House members on government funding bills, forcing them to compromise with House Democrats who are more uniformly liberal and are more inclined to draw a hard line.
- What’s next? It’s really not clear. Nobody is all that sure what the whip counts are for any possible stance, and we’re not seeing the kind of chest thumping that usually precedes an actual shutdown. At the same time, the parties truly are at loggerheads over the DACA issue, and this is the leverage Democrats have.