Little Will Get Done in Congress This Fall as 2020 Jockeying Dominates

September 4, 2019 Updated: September 5, 2019

News Analysis

WASHINGTON—Immigration reform, gun control, and impeachment will be endlessly debated, but little will be accomplished, as the 2020 presidential election overshadows everything in coming months in Congress, according to political and campaign experts interviewed by The Epoch Times.

Traditionally, things get done in off-years such as 2019, as leaders at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue want to claim credit for legislative advances when the next election campaign begins.

But President Donald Trump’s assault on the Washington establishment’s political conventions, and the impeachment zeal of Democrats seeking to hinder him at every opportunity, means “2020” has effectively become a 24-month year.

Experts from both parties agreed that federal spending is the one area to expect tangible results. Brian Darling, a Republican Senate staff veteran who founded Liberty Government Affairs, expects a “budget-busting” temporary spending bill.

“The likely scenario is a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government into December,” Darling said. “Then in December, expect a giant Omnibus Spending bill crafted by leadership with little input from the rank and file members.”

Darling doubts there will be a government shutdown in 2019 because “there is bipartisan agreement in congressional leadership that they need to plus-up defense and domestic spending programs … [and] both parties want to avoid blame for a shutdown while they spike the football on new increased domestic and military spending.”

Tim Chapman, executive director of Heritage Action for America, agreed, saying, “A win for Trump would be full government funding with no liberal riders blocking his moves on immigration, abortion, and health care.”

USMCA

Chapman added, however, that he expects Democrats who control the House of Representatives to hold multiple show votes on key issues.

“The Democrats in the House will continue to slow roll the USMCA with the hopes of stalling it until after the election to deprive the president of a win,” Chapman said.

The USMCA is the proposed United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement negotiated by Trump to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement adopted in 1993.

“In addition, look for [Speaker of the House Nancy] Pelosi to lead her troops in messaging exercises on gun control and other liberal priorities, most likely on the spending bill,” Chapman said.

Darling agreed on the USMCA’s prospects, but thinks a surprise may be coming in December.

“Most Democrats want the deal, because it has widespread support of American farmers and manufacturers … but Democrats will find excuses not to bring up the deal for a vote, even though it clearly has the votes to pass both chambers,” he said. “Expect Democratic leadership in the House and Senate to claim they are open to passing this deal only to pull out the rug at the last minute.”

‘Only Judges’

Democratic experts sharply rejected Republican claims that Pelosi’s Democrats won’t address important issues with substantial legislation.

Jimmy Williams, former senior economic adviser to Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) who’s now a South Carolina-based campaign consultant, responded by criticizing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.):

“The House has passed multiple bills and will continue to do so,” Williams said. “The modern-day Senate confirms only judges. Find me a single major bill the Senate has passed this Congress. Find me a conference committee between the two chambers. You can’t because the Senate has passed nothing. How are they ‘show votes’?”

Max Burns, former communications director at the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights foundation and a Democratic messaging strategist, said gun control offers Trump a chance to compromise with Democrats to get needed action following recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio.

“Trump can seize the issue by going all-in on background checks, ground he’s staked out once before as president by putting his name on a law that also takes most of the steam out of gun control as a 2020 issue,” Burns told The Epoch Times.

But, warned Burns, “if Trump balks, McConnell will find himself increasingly isolated on a losing issue for Republicans, with no clear way out of it.”

Another warning came from Jim Manley, former communications director for then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who said “the only way that anything is going to get done is if the president decides to provide cover to Republicans and come out strongly in favor of something meaningful.”

Manley said “the idea being floated by Vice President Mike Pence that their gun package will include an expedited death penalty provision is nothing more than a poison pill designed by the NRA to torpedo any legislation.”

District Media Group founder Beverly Halberg offered a different take on Congress and the gun control issue.

“Polling shows that more and more Americans are looking for Congress to do something, but I don’t expect to see any significant legislation,” said Halberg, who works with conservative groups and Republicans.

“The president, the Republicans, and the Democrats know that, while overall support for stronger gun laws has increased, the key swing states contain voters that strongly believe in their Second Amendment right to protect themselves.”

That means, Halberg predicted, “there’s going to be a lot of talk and finger-pointing but little to no movement” in Congress this fall on gun control.

Possible Surprises

Politics being politics, however, the experts agreed there could be more than a few surprises in coming competitive months on Capitol Hill.

Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) President David Williams thinks “it is very possible that some sort of [gun control] legislation will be passed” because it’s “a populist issue on which Republicans and Democrats want to appear that they ‘are doing something.’”

Williams also expects action on social media speech regulation, especially regarding Facebook, Twitter, and Google.

“It’s very possible that we see some sort of movement in regulating these platforms,” Williams said, noting, however, that TPA “opposes any heavy-handed government regulation of these platforms. It is an awful precedent for the government to regulate speech on these platforms.”

Another issue that may produce some surprises, according to Burns, is the Green New Deal first proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

“Like it or not, the Green New Deal has the attention of the 2020 Democrats, the White House, and the Congress,” Burns told The Epoch Times.

“There’s next to no chance the full [deal] makes it through the Senate, but I expect we’ll see Senate Republicans holding hearings and potentially offering a compromise climate bill.”

Such an outcome “would be a huge victory for Ocasio-Cortez, and even more fuel for the narrative that Ocasio-Cortez is establishing herself as a power broker capable of bringing Republicans to the table.”

Contact Mark Tapscott at mark.tapscott@epochtimes.nyc.

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