Dems, GOP divided as midterms approach

Alan Fram
Associated Press

Washington – Their tax bill triumph in the rear-view mirror, Republicans running Congress face a 2018 in which they’ll need Democratic votes to get almost anything done.

And that won’t be easy. Short of a few must-pass items, divisions within both parties plus a natural election-year tendency to draw distinctions with the other side means achievements and cooperation will be minimal.

The pressure will be on the GOP, which controls the White House, Senate and House and would probably be blamed by voters for any major screw-ups.

Since Republicans will have just a 51-49 Senate majority next year — well shy of the 60 votes needed to pass most bills — Democrats will have leverage for most things.

“There’s not much you can do on a partisan basis in the Senate,” Senate Majority Leader McConnell, R-Ky., conceded to reporters.

McConnell said he’ll be looking for bipartisan cooperation on immigration and an effort to ease parts of the Dodd-Frank law that regulates financial market, but Democrats won’t be eager to shake hands quickly.

“For Democrats, there’s no reason to cut a deal just for the sake of cutting a deal, especially with the Republican Party as weakened as it is right now,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic consultant.

Republicans rallied around their $1.5 trillion tax overhaul, a primary plank of GOP ideology for decades. They also banded together to confirm the nominations of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and other top federal judges and to peel back 14 rules enacted during the final months of Barack Obama’s presidency dealing with guns, the internet, education and the environment.

But Republicans splintered when it came to their failed effort to erase Obama’s health care law. And they face internal divides over issues like spending, where hard-right members of the House Freedom Caucus can be single-minded in their desire to slash spending and defy leadership efforts to strike compromises inevitably needed with Democrats.

“The only difference that mitigated the December difficulties is we passed a historic tax reform bill,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who leads the Freedom Caucus. “We’re not going to have an historic tax reform bill to fall back on in January, so now it gets down to some very difficult decisions on how we move forward.”

Democrats also face splits over how aggressively to pursue their agenda, particularly immigration.

While party leaders like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., work toward reaching an agreement with Republicans, some liberals and members of the party’s Congressional Hispanic Caucus accuse them of not being assertive enough.