Congressional Republicans had high hopes for making sweeping changes when the party gained control of Washington last month, but the 115th Congress has yet to advance the kind of barnburner legislation that marked the start of the last two administrations.
President George W. Bush proposed No Child Left Behind right after taking office, though it wasn’t signed until a year later. President Barack Obama and the 111th Congress finalized the controversial stimulus package, a children’s health insurance program, and a fair pay act by the end of February 2009.
House Speaker Paul Ryan is now trying to ease concerns within the Republican rank-and-file about the slow pace of activity by comparison. And he’s assuring them that leaders will roll out a plan to achieve their biggest goal – repealing and replacing ObamaCare – after next week’s recess.
“The plan is to repeal and replace … like we said,” Ryan told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Thursday.
As the GOP majority focuses out of the gate on rolling back Obama regulations, Ryan said Congress is precisely on the “timeline” leadership had set.
“The reason we are doing regulatory reform right now is we have a certain window of time where we can go back into the Obama administration and cancel the regulations,” Ryan told "Hannity." “It has a shelf-life of just a couple of months — we have been consuming February and March … then we are doing ObamaCare.”
But leadership is facing pressure from House conservatives, who have grown frustrated with the pace and are getting behind legislation introduced by Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that would upend the health law.
“Speaker Ryan will roll out ‘ObamaCare light,’ leaving parts of ObamaCare – mine is a complete replacement bill,” Paul told Fox News. “Republicans need to come together and remember they used to be unified for a complete repeal, so let’s come back together, get this done, and move on.”
Amid separate pressure to pursue tax reform, House Republicans have been given talking points on the health law for their time with constituents during the upcoming recess. According to the document obtained by Fox News, the points stress that Republicans will advance repeal legislation “in the weeks ahead” to give “relief” from the law’s “taxes and mandates” and move forward with reforms.
Democrats, meanwhile, are pulling no punches in describing the GOP’s struggle.
“If the majority’s grand plan was to achieve nothing, then they’re on track for that,” said Adam Jentleson, former deputy chief of staff to ex-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and now senior strategist at the Center for American Progress. “Republicans have surfed on this myth that if you take away ObamaCare, things would get better and they would easily pass a replace plan — now they’re held accountable for promoting that lie.”
A source in the Senate GOP leadership noted that Obama had a “rubber-stamp” Democratic Senate, seemingly suggesting that President Trump does not – the GOP has only a slim majority in the Senate. The source pointed to the work the GOP-led Congress and White House have done over the last month to roll back some Obama administration regulations, like nullifying an SEC regulation from the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, and, most recently, overturning a rule on coal mining-debris.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told Fox News that Congress has taken “unprecedented action” in targeting and repealing some of the “most harmful” regulations from the Obama administration’s final days.
“The House has voted to change the structure of how regulations are finalized so the people have a voice in the rules of governing our lives,” McCarthy said.
Director of Public Policy at FreedomWorks Jason Pye told Fox News that Congress is taking a “positive step” to cancel Obama administration “midnight rules,” but their slow pace is cause for concern.
“This is taking far too long and the slow pace of work is giving the left the window they need to mobilize,” Pye told Fox News.
A source with the Senate Democratic leadership told Fox News that the GOP simply doesn’t have a legislative agenda “ready-to-go.”
Jentleson, who worked in the 111th Congress, told Fox News that “action from the White House” is supposed to cover up the initial “slow-launch” at the beginning of every Congress.
“The president is the one who is supposed to hit the ground running and direct Congress — especially when he has the majorities of his own party — and hand them framework for bills that everyone is together on so they can get moving quickly,” Jentleson said. “But Trump face-planted out of the gate on that, and exposed the fact that Congress is not working either.”
But Paul says much of the delay stems from the hold-up in confirmation hearings for Trump’s Cabinet picks.
“I don’t know if there’s blame yet,” Paul told Fox News. “Half of our time is spent on nominations -- we need to get his Cabinet in place.”
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told Fox News that Trump has been working “nonstop” since being sworn into Office.
“Congress ought to work at the same pace President Trump has,” Meadows said, “and work to keep the promises we made to the American people, including repealing and replacing ObamaCare in its entirety, reforming our tax code, and passing legislation to secure our border.”
Fox News’ Mike Emanuel contributed to this report.