Congressional Republicans Sketch Ambitious Agenda

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -
U.S. Representative Chris Collins is interviewed during the 2017 “Congress of Tomorrow” Joint Republican Issues Conference in Philadelphia, Wednesday. (Mark Makela/Reuters)

Congressional Republicans laid plans Wednesday to act on a health care repeal bill by the end of March and rewrite the tax code by August as they sketched out an ambitious agenda for their first 200 days under President Donald Trump.

Meeting in Philadelphia for their annual policy retreat, they also discussed action to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, write an infrastructure package sought by Trump and push funding for defense and border priorities.

“We have to get on to the serious issue of governing, these other issues are distractions,” Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa, said. “It’s a very aggressive agenda.”

Lawmakers arrived in Philadelphia via chartered train Wednesday. The 200-day agenda was discussed at a downtown hotel, in a working session led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Ryan laid out the goals of passing legislation to repeal former President Barack Obama’s health care bill and replace some portions by the end of March; and passing legislation to overhaul the loophole-ridden tax code by August. Lawmakers and aides said those goals could be achievable in the House but more difficult for the slower-moving Senate where Democratic cooperation will be needed.

The Senate will also be occupied with confirming a new Supreme Court justice to fill the court’s vacancy. McConnell got a standing ovation from House and Senate lawmakers in the closed-door meeting for his aggressive tactics last year in refusing for 10 months to fill the vacancy created by Antonin Scalia’s death, which now hands Trump a seat to fill. Trump has said he’ll announce his nominee next week.

Details from the gathering were described by lawmakers and aides speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversations.

Along with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence is addressing the gathering Thursday, as is British Prime Minister Theresa May, in a first for a foreign head of state.

Lawmakers were trying to focus on areas of agreement, downplaying distractions created by Trump.

“What we have to do is focus on the things that unite us,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Senate Republican, told reporters at a press conference opening the retreat, listing repealing and replacing the health law, overhauling the loophole-ridden tax code and boosting national security. “Those are clear issues that unite us.”