By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A five-week summer break might sound sweet to many people, but maybe not to the 292 Republicans in Congress who leave Washington with none of their major legislative goals achieved after six months in power alongside President Donald Trump.
With Congress due to be closed until Sept. 5, voters may ask: What happened to repealing and replacing Obamacare? Overhauling the tax code? Investing more money in job-creating infrastructure projects?
The awkward answer for Republican lawmakers and Trump is “not much.”
Despite having control of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives since the November 2016 elections, Republicans have not delivered on their biggest campaign promises.
Distracted by a probe of possible ties between his campaign and Russian meddling in the election, among many other issues he tweets about, Trump has yet to propose any major legislation since his Jan. 20 inauguration.
Some Republicans fear voters will punish their party in the November 2018 elections for inaction now, and that congressional losses would make it even harder for Trump to get things done in 2019-2020, the second half of his four-year term.
Republicans’ failure to repeal Obamacare “is going to be difficult to explain to the (Republican) base,” former Senate Majority Tom Daschle, a Democrat, said in a recent interview.
There are some achievements for Republicans to point to, including the Senate confirmation in April of Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, conservative judge Neil Gorsuch.
This week, congressional Democrats and Republicans also pressured Trump into enacting a Russia-Iran-North Korea sanctions bill. Lawmakers also managed to pass bills to improve veterans’ healthcare and renew a Food and Drug Administration funding stream for reviewing drug safety.
The Senate confirmed a new FBI director and Congress also repealed 14 Obama-era regulations.
But as Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina told reporters, he and his fellow Republicans “lack traction” on major legislation. “We have not done well on the big events.”
When Congress returns in early September, Republicans want to focus on taxes. But a comprehensive tax reform initiative remains under wraps amid deep divisions in the party.
There has been no movement on legislation to finance the rebuilding of roads, bridges, airports and other infrastructure.
Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, who faces a possible tough re-election next year, said Trump remains popular among voters in her state, which he carried by 36 points in November.
“They’re grateful for the rollback of what we all considered onerous regulations against industry; onerous overreach by EPA (Environmental Protection Agency),” Heitkamp said of the regulations then-President Barack Obama imposed before leaving office, which Trump and Congress nullified.
Republicans want to pass a budget blueprint for the fiscal year beginning on Oct. 1, an action that was supposed to have been taken care of long before the summer recess.
Without the measure, Republican legislation rewriting the U.S. tax code might not advance. There are serious disagreements among Republicans about long-term spending levels, however.
Also ominous are the party’s rifts over funding the government near-term and avoiding Oct. 1 federal agency shutdowns. And there is the problem of raising Washington’s borrowing limit. Failure could trigger a historic U.S. default.
Those and other issues will be taken up next month. But in the run-up to the summer break the Senate did manage to close ranks and unanimously pass a resolution proclaiming Sept. 25 as National Lobster Day.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Amanda Becker and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Tom Brown)