The opening measures of the Trump presidency have been a wild percussion of nomination fights, executive orders, booming tweets, errant tweets, memos sent, memos received and memos denied. But after that first rapid-fire burst of a month, Republicans are now staring at large, sweeping decisions that they have considered for years, but must make soon.
Let’s set aside the smaller picture and look at five major issues near a turning point for the president and the Republican-controlled Congress.
Budget cuts: Congress must decide if it will keep the sequester — the automatic budget caps across government that are set to return starting in October. The debate process starts in the next six weeks. Republicans want to reverse scheduled cuts for defense. ($100 billion-plus over the next four years.)
But it’s not clear how they’d offset that money. This could mean deeper cuts for the rest of government or money-raising proposals that need close scrutiny.
Affordable Care Act details: While House Republicans did give members a broad outline of their repeal plans, they have yet to decide on the hard parts: how to pay for any increased costs and whether they will guarantee that as many Americans will be covered under their plan.
The travel order: We are waiting for President Trump’s new executive order on travel sometime this week. He described it as “extreme vetting,” and said it would be closely tailored to court decisions that have blocked his original order. Many of the same issues are in play along with a potential change in the timing of the rollout.
Deportations: How exactly will the Trump administration act on its new, more sweeping guidelines aimed at detaining people who are in the country illegally? Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security released new guidelines expanding the definition of “criminal alien” to potentially include anyone who is undocumented. The guidelines indicate nearly everyone who is in the country illegally can be targeted for deportation soon. (One exception: The White House says it will not target so-called “Dreamers” who were brought to the U.S. as children.)
The question is how exactly this will be carried out across the country. Will Immigration and Customs Enforcement step up raids and will local officials additionally become more involved? Will there be more checkpoints in areas near the border, or elsewhere? Will more in law enforcement start extending detentions? And importantly, how will all these people be handled legally? Will they be given due process?
Earmarks: Don’t wait for someone to say the word “earmarks.” But you could see more of them, as members of Congress increasingly discuss them by their formal title — “Congressionally-directed spending.”
Republicans must decide whether to ramp up the use of the district-by-district projects that critics say can be giveaways. The decision could impact bills large and small, and the way Congress operates in general.