Here’s a surprise: Congress is mired in disputes about the new legislation that is supposed to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (or at least claims to do something to deal with the ongoing problems with President Obama’s signature legislation). There was supposed to be a vote on the legislation on the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday, but the tally got postponed over concerns that the legislation might fail.
President Trump has been involved in the wrangling, and last night he weighed in with what the Washington Post described as an “ultimatum.” According to the Post, Trump told the Republicans in the House to either pass the legislation on Friday, or reject it, in which case Trump will move on to other items on his agenda. Trump apparently will leave it up to the Republicans in the House to figure out whether they can agree or not.
It’s an interesting approach, and I suspect that it comes from Trump’s years of working in the business world. Corporations typically don’t engage in open-ended negotiations, allowing events to marinate and slowly come together — which often seems to be how Congress works (if you believe that Congress works at all). Instead, because there’s a time value to money and limits to corporate resources that can be expended on potential deals that don’t materialize, corporations set establish priorities, set deadlines, and push. Once a deadline gets set, it becomes another means of applying pressure to the parties to reach an agreement, and if the deal doesn’t get done by the deadline, typically that takes the transaction off the table, the corporation moves on, and there is no going back.
Trump’s approach to this legislative test is, obviously, also informed by political considerations; he wants to set a deadline so members of Congress are actually forced to do something concrete, and we don’t have the lingering story of “what’s going to happen to Obamacare” attracting all of the media attention and detracting from the other things he’s trying to accomplish. It’s a gamble, because if the legislation Trump is backing doesn’t pass, he could be painted as a failure in the early months of his Administration, making it less likely that he’ll be able to obtain passage of other parts of his agenda, like tax reform. We already knew that Trump is a gambler, of course — his whole campaign was a bizarre, otherworldly gamble that paid off. Now he’s bringing some of that high-stakes, business world approach to the legislative political realm.
We shouldn’t be surprised, by now, that Trump is going to continue to gamble and continue to do things in confounding ways. Today we’ll get another lesson in whether his approach can actually work in Washington, D.C., even on a short term basis.