Mueller’s Appointment May Give GOP Breathing Room But Agenda Still In Trouble

The appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel by Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein is not only a welcome development for the country but also takes enormous pressure off Republicans in Congress. The question is whether the various investigating committees in the House and Senate will either shut down or slow-walk their current investigations even more than they have been, basically claiming not to want to interfere with Mueller’s investigation. I suspect that is their preferred approach.

That does not mean that there will still not be earth-shattering revelations like what we have seen for the last few weeks. The press is incredibly focused on all aspects surrounding the Russia investigation and their reporting will not stop. And Republicans in Congress will still have to react to each and every one of these new reports, even if just to say that they are leaving it all in the good hands of Robert Mueller.

In addition, the question about what to do with James Comey and his contemporaneous memos needs to be resolved. Multiple committees have subpoenaed those memos and multiple committees want to hear directly from Comey in either open hearings or closed. Comey, quite naturally, has already indicated he would only speak in an open hearing. It is doubtful that the committees would shut down this line of inquiry at this point because it would again look like it was abetting a cover-up at least for the short term until Mueller finishes his job. On the other hand, letting Comey testify in direct contradiction of Trump’s statements just ratchets up impeachment pressure on Republicans. Mueller may save them by asking Congress not to interview Comey as he is a potential witness in his inquiry.

And it is quite possible that Mueller’s appointment will give the GOP just enough breathing space to actually work on their destructive agenda. But, despite that potential respite, the calendar is working against the GOP. It is clear that whatever their own version of the AHCA will be, it will need to pass under the arcane rules of budget reconciliation. That means that it must get done by June 15, less than month away. Unless McConnell tries to do what Ryan did in the House, which is far more difficult to pull off in the Senate, there is no way that the Senate can pass a bill by that date. That means that it will have to be taken up again in the fall as part of the 2018 budget.

That delay creates a problem for the GOP’s tax cut plan. They were counting on the reduced budget baseline that would have been created by the passage of the AHCA in 2017 in order to fuel even more tax cuts for the rich in 2018. Without that reduced baseline, the likelihood increases that the GOP tax plan will not be any kind of comprehensive reform but an unfunded lowering of the corporate and highest individual tax rate. But the tax plan and the Senate’s version of the AHCA will all be part of the massive budget battle looming this fall. And raising the debt ceiling, which will require Democratic support, will also have to be dealt with around the same time.

In the very short term, any respite from Trump’s Russian problems will just allow focus to shift back to the cruelty and awfulness of the AHCA. We have yet to hear the CBO score on the revised AHCA and it is expected next week. I would expect the numbers to be even worse than its original scoring, if you can imagine that’s possible. Additionally, insurers have a June 19 final deadline for signing up for the Obamacare exchanges in 2018. Since there will be no Senate bill, insurers will at least have definitive knowledge about the lay of the land for 2018. But beyond that, it is total uncertainty. And, as we heard from Republicans constantly during the Obama years, business hates uncertainty. It will be up to Democrats to make sure the GOP owns the rate hikes that are bound to come in 2018 because of the uncertainty Republicans have created.

In the end, while Mueller’s appointment may take some of the heat off of Republicans in Congress, their agenda is pretty well stalled until the fall when the next battle over health care and tax cuts will reach a fever pitch. And it is impossible to know what other disasters Trump will create between now and then that will further distract the GOP.
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