Even as President Donald Trump is on an extended foreign trip, there will be a lot of domestic news developing this week as his budget for 2018 is released, though action on the Trump spending plan and a number of other major agenda items is still uncertain on Capitol Hill.
Here is where we are on major issues in the Congress, as lawmakers get ready to leave Washington later this week for a ten day break, anchored by Memorial Day:
1. Health care overhaul legislation. In terms of major legislation, this is the brightest spot for the agenda of the Trump White House and GOP leaders. The House passed its version of health care on May 4, and now that political hot potato is in the hands of Senators. There have been frequent meetings involving Republicans, and even some bipartisan negotiations as well, but no indications as yet of an emerging deal. Remember - all other major legislation is waiting on health care in the Congress, because of the unique parliamentary situation involving this bill. The longer it takes for the GOP to forge a deal, the longer everything else stays on hold. Oh, and did I mention the possibility that the House might have to vote on the health care bill again? We'll save that for later this week.
2. Waiting for the details of tax reform. Republicans held their first hearing on tax reform last week in the House, and will have another hearing this coming week in the Senate. But apart from that, there is no timeline on when lawmakers will come forward with the details of a bill. The White House only issued a one page summary with some bullet points on what the President wants to in terms of tax changes - as that rundown left dozens of issues unaddressed. Tax lobbyists are gearing up to do a lot of work in the months ahead. Speaker Paul Ryan said this past week he still hopes to get tax reform done by the end of the year. It will not be easy.
3. Trump budget coming out on Tuesday. After sending Congress what is known as the "skinny budget," President Trump's administration will now fill in the details of his spending plans for 2018, and there will be a lot of headlines about reductions in entitlements like Medicaid. With the Trump White House ready to cut all sorts of discretionary programs as well, these details will spur all sorts of press stories and lawmaker statements about what should not be cut and more. Remember, the Congress doesn't have to do anything with this budget document, but it is still is a good indicator of what the President would like to see done in terms of spending at the federal level. Whether it goes anywhere in Congress is another issue entirely.
4. Don't hold your breath on a balanced budget. As I reported earlier this month, the Trump budget details to be released this week are not expected to bring about a balanced budget for ten years - after President Trump has left office. That is a standard GOP plan from Congress. The last time the feds balanced the budget was at the end of President Bill Clinton's time in office. The budget deficit is estimated to be around $500 billion this year.
5. Congress behind on spending bills - again. Lawmakers have only just started holding some hearings on the 2018 budget - those will accelerate with the release of the Trump budget details this week. But the bottom line is that the Congress has almost no chance of finishing its budget work on time - by September 30 - as there will almost certainly be the need for a temporary stop gap budget later this year, with the threat of a government shutdown thrown in for good measure. I'm old enough to remember the days when Congress had real debates and real votes on the House and Senate floors about spending during the months of June and July. That doesn't happen much anymore.
6. The Congressional schedule. Congress will work next week, and then take a ten day break from Washington, wrapping around Memorial Day. From there, lawmakers are scheduled to be in session for four weeks in June, and three weeks in July, followed by a five week break until after Labor Day. If you hear a member of Congress tell you that they didn't have enough time to tackle certain issues, you can lob something at the TV screen, because that's not true.