US Elections 2016, the day after: Transiting to the White House

Republicans in Congress to hasten conservative push

WASHINGTON • Congressional Republicans, stunned by their own good, if complicated, fortune, are planning to move quickly next year on an agenda that merges with President-elect Donald Trump's.

That includes repealing Obama-care, cutting taxes, confirming conservative judges, shrinking government programmes and rolling back regulations.

Like much of the nation, groggy Republicans were still trying to process results that were the opposite of what most had anticipated. Many Republicans in the House and Senate largely avoided Mr Trump during his campaign, while a handful outright denounced him, largely to their peril. In the Senate, two incumbents and one Republican challenger who rejected Mr Trump lost. But Republicans appeared likely to secure a 52-48 majority in the Senate.

Mr Trump's victory provides what Republicans have been seeking for a decade: unified control of the government and a chance to pursue a conservative agenda, transforming them from the "party of no" into a party that can enact significant legislation.

On Wednesday, congressional leaders said major parts of their agenda could get to the new president's desk quickly.

"The goal would be to try and get on the same page," said Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, as he celebrated the Republican victories at the Capitol.

"We're going to be an enthusiastic supporter almost all the time," he said of Mr Trump. "When we have differences of opinion, I prefer that we work them out in private."

President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare, was clearly in Republicans' sights.

"This healthcare law is collapsing of its own weight," said Speaker Paul Ryan, adding that Congress had already shown it could get a repeal Bill to the President's desk without any Democratic help. Republicans are widely believed to favour a manoeuvre used in budgeting that would allow them to undo the law without facing a Democratic filibuster.

Other issues that converge with the new president's include the confirmation of a conservative Supreme Court justice to fill a vacancy from the death of Mr Antonin Scalia early this year; the reduction of climate and other regulations on businesses and Wall Street; and the diminution of the role of the federal government in an array of policy areas such as education.

But other priorities are far from shared. Mr Trump spent his campaign deriding many of the cornerstone principles of his party: free trade, changes in social security and the US posture towards Russia.

 

"It's just our constitutional duty to keep the executive branch in check," said Senator-elect Todd Young on Wednesday.

Mr Trump also agrees with Republicans on sharp tax cuts for businesses and most American households, especially the wealthiest. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Centre estimated that Mr Trump's plan would cut federal revenue by US$6.2 trillion (S$8.7 trillion) over the next decade.

The biggest question going into the next Congress will be how Mr Trump deals with Mr Ryan, a frequent critic during the campaign. Mr Trump often returned fire, notably when Mr Ryan said he could no longer defend Mr Trump's more incendiary remarks and disinvited him from a campaign swing in Wisconsin.

But in Mr Ryan, Mr Trump has a built-in policy factory with a largely supportive caucus. If he signals his support for Mr Ryan, if not all of his ideas, the two could probably forge a path forward.

"Nothing unites a political party more than a big win," said former top Republican congressional aide John Feehery.

"I expect Republican leaders to work closely with the new Trump administration. They don't have much of a choice at this juncture."

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2016, with the headline 'Republicans in Congress to hasten conservative push'. Print Edition | Subscribe