Despite having passed a controversial and widely despised tax bill through the Senate, congressional Republicans still face numerous difficulties before anything reaches President Donald Trump’s desk. Significant differences remain between the two bills passed by the Senate and the House. With the GOP holding a minimal 52-vote majority in the Senate, the odds are high that whatever final bill emerges from the conference committee of members from both chambers will lean toward the Senate’s version.
Further complicating matters for House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is that the stopgap funding law that currently funds the federal government expires on Friday at midnight. At this writing, the GOP has no agreement on what would replace it.
Far-right Republicans have long chafed at the idea of passing temporary “continuing resolutions,” since they believe — entirely without empirical evidence — that Americans want to cut federal spending as much as they do. The GOP’s congressional leaders are at least somewhat aware that this opinion runs counter to public polling, which has repeatedly demonstrated that budget cuts are wildly unpopular, even among Republican voters.
As a result, GOP leaders have tried to draw Democrats into their spending reduction proposals with concerns about the federal budget deficit. It has worked in the past, including in 2011 when President Barack Obama signed the Budget Control Act (better known as the “budget sequester”) which even now forces some mandatory spending reductions.
Getting Democrats to sign on has sometimes allowed Republicans to make actual spending reductions and offered the possibility of even larger cuts, such as the “grand bargain” Obama and former Speaker John Boehner nearly reached in 2011 to cut Social Security and Medicare in exchange for some additional taxes. But “bipartisanship” has become seen as a bad word or fatal sign of weakness among conservative activists, so the built-in preference for Republicans has been to try and get things done within the walls of the GOP.