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Will The GOP Pass Anything Before Midterms?

In this week’s politics chat, we discuss what major legislation, if any, Republicans in Washington can pass. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): We’re going to play a game today!

This was supposed to be the week when President Trump really started selling the American public on tax reform. Instead, he started Tuesday with a series of tweets attacking Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican senator who would be key in passing … tax reform. And then Sen. Jeff Flake announced his retirement, freeing him from the need to please Trump or the Republican base.

So, this got me thinking: Will Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress accomplish any of their major legislative goals before the 2018 midterms? Which are most likely? (“Major” is obviously subjective.)

To answer that, I’m giving everyone $100. You can bet however much of it you want on Trump signing major legislation on …

  1. Taxes.
  2. Health care.
  3. Infrastructure.
  4. A Dreamers deal.
  5. The Wall.
  6. Abortion.
  7. Something else. (Campaign finance? Voter ID? Who knows?)

So if you think the GOP is 100 percent likely to pass tax reform and has no chance of passing anything else, you would put all $100 on taxes. You must bet all your money.

Everyone got it?

harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): Yo, Micah … can I borrow $100?

micah: No.

Everyone good on the rules? Also, shout out to @coreyhogan for this idea. (He suggested we should have done this with our last chat.)

harry: I’m into it.

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): Yes.

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): Yeah.

micah: 👌

First up: TAXES!

Place your bets!

perry: $40.

clare.malone: $50

harry: Well. I’ll say $44.50.

micah: $74

BAM!

clare.malone: wowww

Spicy bet.

harry: WOW.

perry: So, Micah, is that because you think taxes has a great chance or everything else has almost no chance?

harry: Micah is coming in hot and strong.

clare.malone: Bad sign for THE WALL.

micah: Here’s my reasoning: They’re working on it now, which by itself is a huuuuuuge advantage given the timeline (before the midterms). I don’t necessarily think taxes are guaranteed to pass — or even more likely than not — but the odds seem much better than all this other stuff.

perry: That seems right to me.

clare.malone: Yeah, I agree with the reasoning, though not the amount bet.

I’m a cautious lady.

micah: Although, the Trump-Corker stuff this week seemed about taxes, right?

perry: Not really. Corker called him crazy again. (Paraphrasing, slightly.)

micah: Oh, that happened first?

There was this, though:

perry: Corker was on morning shows:

So Corker made his comments and Trump was responding.

micah: Ahhh, OK …

clare.malone: This is like middle school: We need the timeline of who insulted whom before first period.

micah: haha.

clare.malone: It’s depressing.

harry: I think the bigger story here — besides Micah’s crazy bet — is that we all put down a ton of money.

Let me explain why I think tax reform has a good shot of passing. It comes down to four key variables:

  1. Congressional Republicans want it to pass.
  2. The public isn’t that interested in taxes, so you could pass something that might be unpopular.
  3. Donors want it.
  4. It hasn’t failed yet like health care.

perry: I agree with this. Micah’s high number is right.

micah: I don’t think tax reform is likely!!!! I just think it’s far likelier than this other stuff!

perry: Right.

I see a couple of other things having a chance. But tax reform may be close to 50-50, and some of this other stuff is 0-100.

clare.malone: Wait, I forgot I have to spend all my money by the end of this game.

micah: Yes.

clare.malone: Many of these things won’t get done.

harry: You gotta spend all that green.

micah: You can change your bet, Clare.

clare.malone: So, yeah, I think Micah’s convinced me!

micah: I’m winning!

clare.malone: I want to cautiously bump up to $65.

harry: That’s a lot of dough.

perry: I’m sticking with $40. Harry, you can change too.

micah: Harry can’t change his.

I MAKE THE RULES AROUND HERE!!!

perry: I see.

harry: I don’t want to change.

micah: OK, anyone have any other thoughts on tax reform’s chances? Or what kind of bill would have the best chance?

perry: A deficit-increasing bill that doesn’t pay for itself.

micah: Go on …

perry: To get it passed, the GOP needs a bill that is a tax cut, without any real tax increases. Anything that raises anyone’s taxes is a political problem, except for raising taxes on the wealthy, which Republicans don’t want to do. So a bill that cuts taxes and does nothing else — thus increasing the deficit — likely has the best chance of passing.

clare.malone: So, one of the ways they’re considering doing that are these caps on 401(k) contributions, which Trump has now come out against.

Which is an interesting mini-battle.

perry: Trump seemed to have the politics right on that question. It was a really dumb idea.

clare.malone: It’s like Trump, champion of middle class, vs. big bad Wall Street Republicans.

micah: So you think they end up with a bill that’s just a giant tax cut (rather than reform) and that increases the debt/deficit? And that actually may be the best move politically?

perry: Yes. No one really cares about the deficit.

clare.malone: Except Corker. Purportedly.

perry: Corker is the only senator who is voting solely on the deficit, as far as I can tell.

harry: The polling mostly agrees on that: People don’t want the deficit to be raised, but they place a low priority on it.

micah: Next!

HEALTH CARE!

Place your bets!

perry: $0

clare.malone: I place $6 of bitcoin.

harry: $1.50.

micah: I’ll go with $1.

Wait, would something like Alexander-Murray (the bipartisan bill to stabilize Obamacare markets and offer states more flexibility) qualify as major legislation?

perry: Yes.

harry: Oh, wow. I was thinking it wouldn’t.

perry: So assuming it would, go ahead. I was including that in my $0.

micah: Yeah, let’s count Alexander-Murray-level legislation.

clare.malone: Where does that stand?

micah: ☠️ 🚪 💅 ?

perry: The fact that you can’t figure that out is why I’m at $0. I have no idea. Trump took six different positions on the plan in a week.

clare.malone: Per Politico: “McConnell said on Sunday during an interview with CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ that he would bring the bill to the floor only if Trump would sign it.”

harry: I don’t think it has a good shot of passing, but I might raise my bet to $2.50. Maybe Trump will change his mind and support Alexander-Murray if it looks like it could be a win for him?

clare.malone: You know he would!

micah: Agreed.

perry: So $0 on Obamacare repeal because Republicans can’t get the votes from the Senate moderates. And $0 on Alexander-Murray because that would require the House to pass a bill propping up Obamacare, which I don’t think will ever happen.

micah: Hmmm … that’s hard to argue with.

harry: I have learned that a low probability isn’t the same thing as zero probability.

micah: Very true.

Also, what about the idea that Trump’s meddling with Obamacare will cause price increases and chaos and that therefore political pressure will build for Congress to do something?

harry: Right.

micah: Anyone buying that?

harry: Well, as Perry said: What are the chances that a bill akin to Alexander-Murray could pass the House? We’re talking about the Senate mostly here.

perry: Political pressure from liberals, moderates, governors and the media could build because of the ACA price increases. But those are all people Trump doesn’t care about. When will Sean Hannity demand an Obamacare fix?

micah: OK…

INFRASTRUCTURE!!!

perry: $0

clare.malone: I’m going to put $10 on this.

harry: Uh, $5.

micah: $20!

perry: Micah, that’s insane. The House Freedom Caucus will leave Congress en masse before they allow an infrastructure bill to pass!

Explain yourself.

micah: OK, so I put a big bet on taxes, right? But let’s say that fails. What happens?

Answer: Trump and Republicans get really, really freaking desperate. They need a win. Badly.

And if taxes fail, I think we’re in “Trump/moderate Republicans would make a deal with Democrats” territory. Trump would most likely be furious with Senate Majority Mitch McConnell. Even the Freedom Caucus would be so desperate for a win before the 2018 midterms that they might sign on to infrastructure.

clare.malone: If we’re reasoning that taxes are the thing that’s been most discussed, next most discussed (excepting health care) is infrastructure, and it’s very on-brand for Trump. I’m not sure how congressional Republicans besides Freedom Caucus members feel, but I have a sense that there’s some kind of bipartisan effort to actually be made here.

perry: Interesting.

clare.malone: If ever the Republican Party might be inclined to do a big jobs creation program, it would be in this moment.

perry: I would have agreed with Clare in February. But Trump has not taken the economic populist message of the campaign and acted on it, except in bashing trade deals.

micah: Case in point: Congress just passed a law this week repealing a rule that would have let people form class-action lawsuits against banks and credit card companies. The Trump administration sided with Wall Street.

Although, Republicans could probably rig an infrastructure package to benefit rich people and corporations! j/k. Sorta.

harry: I feel like y’all are creating a universe that doesn’t exist.

micah: I am, but that’s sorta the point. I’m imagining a universe where nothing on taxes gets done.

Think about what the narrative would be like in that world. It would go something like “MORE THAN 1 YEAR IN, TRUMP AND REPUBLICANS HAVE ACCOMPLISHED NOTHING.”

Trump would be furious. The base would be furious. Also, Harry, how freaking popular is infrastructure spending?

perry: Raising taxes on the rich is popular too, but Republican don’t want to do that. Medicaid is really popular, and Republicans tried to cut that. (I’m not Harry, but I know these things!)

The Hill agenda seems, at times, to be: 1. Find out what is popular; 2. Do opposite.

harry: Well here’s one poll on it: “Do you support or oppose increasing federal spending for roads, bridges, mass transit and other infrastructure?” Quinnipiac finds 86 percent support. (Of course, how to actually get money for that spending is another question.)

micah: IDK, I bet the Obama-Trump voters would love infrastructure spending.

perry: I agree.

micah: And in desperate times, maybe Trump reverts to what he sorta knows: building stuff.

clare.malone: Almost like it’s a perfect prelude to midterms!

micah: Right.

If the midterms are approaching and Republicans in Congress haven’t passed anything, I think Trump starts distancing himself from them. Infrastructure would be a good way to do that.

harry: How much money have I spent so far is my question…

I gotta start spending dough.

micah: I have only $5 left.

clare.malone: You can always spend the bitcoin, Harry.

I’ve got $19.

micah: OK…

DREAMERS!

(Basically, some legislative deal that would allow people who qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to stay in the U.S. legally.)

perry: $35.

clare.malone: A bill to fix the program … hm. $10.

harry: This has got a real shot. $30.50.

clare.malone: These all seem proportional to what we’ve spent.

micah: wow

$3.

clare.malone: hah

Do tell.

There’s a decent amount of political will to fix this.

micah: Well…

clare.malone: You think it loses steam because it’s off-brand for the party base?

micah: Basically, yes. (Also, I simply ran out of money.)

I think it would take a sustained, strategically smart push from Trump to get the GOP to go against one of its defining features — anti-immigration sentiment — and … I have a hard time seeing that happening.

perry: Lots of Republicans, even conservatives, have written Dreamer-style bills. So I think there’s a way to cut a deal here that adds some border enforcement to placate conservatives. It’s off-brand, but I think the people-brought-here-as-kids issue makes this different.

But Micah’s argument is strong.

micah: Hmmm… yours is too.

Maybe I spent too much on taxes?

But you all think the Freedom Caucus/Senate hardliners would go along with a Dreamer fix?

perry: It has to be in a bill with border stuff. You can see where my bets are heading.

clare.malone: Yes.

perry: Maybe just because this kind of compromise seems so obvious to me, I’m overstating its odds of happening.

micah: You think Democrats would go along with pretty stringent border control stuff to get a fix?

clare.malone: Yes. Ultimately.

micah: I think they should! I’m not sure they will, though.

clare.malone: Hah, well yes … but saving Dreamers is a huge priority, I’d say.

perry: Right. I think we see this as a tactical choice that is logical. They might not. As Harry and Clare have written: Democrats have moved left on immigration.

clare.malone: Verrrrrry left:

harry: The Dreamer bills are very popular, including among some Republicans.

clare.malone: It’s actually quite a philosophical predicament for Democrats, though.

micah: Spell that out a little more please?

clare.malone: Dreamers, The Wall — both are gut issues for the Democratic base. If they accede on a wall, it does give Trump a moral victory of sorts, but they’re saving these hundreds of thousands of people from deportation in the process. Do they just tell their voters, “Hey, The Wall matters, but actually not that much”? Or will they see it as dangerous to give Trump one of his biggest campaign promises?

I guess I’m making it sound very much like an optics thing.

perry: That is how to describe the tactical question too.

clare.malone: You can see which way I’m tilting…

I think it’s still OK for them politically to do a Dreamers deal.

micah: That brings us nicely to …

THE WALL.

Place your bets!

perry: $25

harry: Wow.

micah: WOW!

😮

clare.malone: I have only $9 left.

micah: I have $2.

harry: IDK how much I have. LOL. Let’s go with $7.50.

micah: I’m going with $0.50.

Five dimes.

clare.malone: I’m going with $6, per my explanation above with the Dreamers.

perry: Do I think it will be a wall as described in the campaign? I do not. But I think something that Trump can call a wall, moderate Republicans and some Democrats can call enhanced fencing, etc.

micah: WAIT A SECOND!!! Perry, that’s cheating. A symbolic wall shouldn’t count.

perry: You think so?

harry: It’s not cheating. It’s interpretation.

perry: I didn’t mean to cheat.

harry: Micah’s just upset that he’s a crummy manager of money.

clare.malone: I don’t think Perry is cheating, and I think that sounds about right.

micah: You’re not allowed to gang up against me.

clare.malone: The proletariat have to unite somehow.

perry: Let’s say $25 for something everyone can call a wall then.

I’m fine with that.

micah: Deal.

perry: I’m pretty bullish on the wall.

micah: So it seems like all three of you think something close to “The Wall” will come out of the Dreamer deal?

perry: Yes, I think a Dreamer deal with some kind of wall and heavy border security component is almost as likely as taxes

As Clare said, the wall has become a symbol. And no one can be seen as losing. Which makes this complicated.

clare.malone: Isn’t politics grand!?

micah: I guess I’m just betting on the fundamentals here, sorta: Democrats have moved waaaaaay left on immigration; Republicans have moved waaaaaay right.

So, it’ll be hard for them to come together.

perry: Right. Micah’s case is not wrong.

harry: Remember, the wall is very unpopular overall. So Democrats may be unlikely to compromise on it.

micah: OK, last one before the grab bag …

ABORTION.

clare.malone: $3. Because that is what I have left.

micah: $0.50.

perry: $0. Assuming you mean the 20-week ban, that seems to be going nowhere. I’m sure some kind of Planned Parenthood something could pass. But I’m out of money anyway.

micah: The 20-week bill is a no-go in the Senate, right?

perry: Right.

It would need 60 votes. So it would need Democrats. So it isn’t going anywhere.

harry: Right. So $0.

It could get a majority. But they need more than that.

I have no idea how much money I have.

micah: Harry, this is basic math and you work for a data-obsessed news organization.

clare.malone: C’mon, Enten.

micah: Last one!

OTHER.

(Some issue comes out of nowhere, and Congress passes substantive legislation on it.)

Place your bets!

perry: Other things could happen, I just don’t have any single thing I see as very likely. Like, I don’t think anything big will happen on Iran. Or North Korea. So $0.

clare.malone: NO MONEY.

Nothing else will happen.

Ever.

micah: $1.

Clare, you could borrow money from Harry.

clare.malone: Unless … sanctions or something?

perry: Iran sanctions could happen.

micah: Yeah, how likely is something like sanctions? Or something even more out of left field?

harry: $10.

Something crazy might happen.

micah: What about something out of the Kris Kobach voter “fraud” commission?

perry: I see that as a $0. I assume Democrats in the Senate would kill it.

micah: Yeah.

perry: Another Supreme Court nominee is the obvious wild card.

clare.malone: Impeachment. (I’m trolling.)

perry: lol

clare.malone: But impeachment.

micah: OK, so in sum, I had:

  1. Taxes — $74
  2. Infrastructure — $20
  3. Dreamers — $3
  4. Health Care — $1
  5. The Wall — $0.50
  6. Abortion — $0.50
  7. Other — $1

perry:

  1. Taxes — $40
  2. Dreamers — $35
  3. The Wall — $25
  4. Health care — $0
  5. Infrastructure — $0
  6. Abortion — $0
  7. Other — $0

clare.malone:

  1. Taxes — $65
  2. Infrastructure — $10
  3. Dreamers —$10
  4. Healthcare — $6
  5. The Wall—$6
  6. Abortion—$3
  7. Other — $0

harry:

  1. Taxes — $44.50
  2. Dreamers — $30.50
  3. Other — $10
  4. The Wall — $7.50
  5. Infrastructure — $5
  6. Health care — $2.50
  7. Abortion — $0

micah: This made for some interesting disagreements! We all think taxes are most likely, but Clare and I are much higher on infrastructure than Harry and Perry, who are instead much higher on a Dreamer fix.

Readers, send us how you would spread out the $100 to @538politics.

Thanks, all!

Clare Malone is a senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Perry Bacon Jr. is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Harry Enten is a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.

Micah Cohen is the politics editor.

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