Impeachment dominates, but much other work awaits Congress

It’s a volatile, difficult-to-predict time in Washington as lawmakers end a two-week break

Impeachment dominates, but much other work awaits Congress

Impeachment may have leapfrogged to the top of the national agenda, but members of Congress still have their day jobs as legislators, and they’re returning to Washington this coming week with mixed hopes of success.

It’s a volatile, difficult-to-predict time in Washington as lawmakers end a two-week break. The notion that President Donald Trump could do much significant dealmaking with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, his impeachment antagonist, could be fanciful, given Trump’s impulsiveness and demands for border wall money.

An important trade agreement pact has a pulse. An effort to deal with high prescription drug prices seems stuck.

Pelosi, D-Calif., is aware of the political imperative to avoid looking tied up in impeachment while leaving the rest of the nation’s business hanging. At a recent news conference she solicited questions on topics such as trade before turning to impeachment, reminding that the Democratic-controlled House has sent bill after bill to the GOP-led Senate, which has done little else but vote on presidential nominations for months.

Divided government has produced scant results thus far, except for a small-scale budget deal that lawmakers are struggling to put in place. The next few months could prove make or break for high-profile agenda items such as an updated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, a full slate of spending bills and prescription drug legislation. Pelosi insists impeachment doesn’t have to harm the legislative agenda in Washington.

“They have nothing to do with each other,” Pelosi said earlier this month. “We have a responsibility to uphold our oath of office, to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. We also have a responsibility to get the job done for the American people.”

The atmosphere isn’t exactly brimming with optimism. Hopes for a near-term breakthrough on trade, one of the few items on which Pelosi and Republicans are in general alignment, faded after AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued a combative warning against a speedy vote on the new North American pact.

On spending, negotiators are trying push through a $1.4 trillion package of agency spending bills to fill in the details of this summer’s budget-and-debt accord.

Experienced bargainers such as GOP Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, are taking the lead on that but lingering bitterness over the U.S.-Mexico wall fight threatens to again delay a resolution. That’s particularly so after Trump’s attacked lawmakers’ traditional power of the purse by raiding military construction projects to finance wall construction.

Given the uncertainty, lawmakers may end up doing what they do best: Kicking the can down the road.

Months-late enactment of the annual agency appropriations bills is increasingly common in Washington, and it’s clear that another temporary government-wide funding bill will be needed when the current one expires in six weeks. Likewise, there’s no hard and fast deadline for ratifying an important trade pact with Mexico and Canada that an administration priority.

Pelosi supported the original North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, as did the current House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Rep. Richard Neal, who has forged a good relationship with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Pelosi and Neal, D-Mass., had been making cautious but optimistic assurances about the long-delayed trade pact, which is being held up in large part over Mexico’s efforts to toughen labour standards and limit U.S. job losses.

A green light from labour would make Pelosi’s job much easier, so the outlook for the trade agreement soured considerably when Trumka warned that labour would work to kill it if House Democrats tried to rush a vote.

“If there was a vote before Thanksgiving, the agreement would be defeated,” Trumka told The Washington Post.

Steve Elmendorf, a lobbyist who cultivates close ties to Democratic leaders, said that before Trumka’s remarks, there seemed to be a sense of progress and that lawmakers would have liked to hold a vote before the holiday. He said that if Pelosi “can get a good deal, she is completely capable of compartmentalizing this and a bunch of other issues in a different lane than impeachment.”

What does need to pass before Thanksgiving is another short-term measure to prevent a government shutdown. That would buy more time for lawmakers to try to negotiate a full package of spending bills.

Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have a proven track record as negotiators who can deliver. But Trump could upend the situation at any time. He’s at least given negotiators the green light to try to find a way to an agreement.

The glass half-full take is that both Trump and Pelosi need legislative victories heading into next year’s elections. Pelosi has a slew of freshmen Democrats from swing districts with lots of middle-of-the-road voters, while Trump hasn’t delivered on many bread-and-butter issues since his 2017 tax cut bill.

Talks on prescription drugs face considerable obstacles, however. McConnell has promised to stop Pelosi’s bill is its tracks, but a bipartisan Senate bill has divided Republicans and faces big hurdles of its own.

There’s another factor that tilts the playing field toward delay: There is plenty of time. Unlike the burst of legislating that occurred on the cusp of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in the fall of 1998, Congress can still wrap up its work next year.

Andrew Taylor, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health care worker prepares to test a Coastal GasLink field worker for COVID-19. (Coastal GasLink photo)
Coastal GasLink begins COVID screening of pipeline workers

Construction is once again ramping up following Northern Health approval of COVID management plan

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

Chris Paulson of Burns Lake took a quick selfie with a lynx over the weekend of Feb. 20-22, 2021, after the wild cat was found eating some of his chickens. (Chris Paulson/Facebook)
VIDEO: Burns Lake man grabs lynx by scruff after chickens attacked

‘Let’s see the damage you did, buddy,’ Chris Paulson says to the wild cat

Fisheries and Oceans Canada released it's 2021 Pacific Herring Integrated Fisheries Management Plan Feb. 19. (File photo)
Northern herring opportunities kept to a minimum

2021 management plan caps Prince Rupert fishery at 5 per cent

A collaborative genomic research project is underway to map the movements of 118 Northwest sockeye populations to better inform management decisions on at-risk stocks. (File photo)
Genomic study tracks 118 Northwest B.C. sockeye populations

Development of new tool will be used to help harvesters target healthy groups

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Most Read