Colliding DC Storylines

Buckle up, everybody. The next nine days will read like the last chapter of an Agatha Christie novel. Nobody knows how it will all turn out, but the right thumb can count that there’s not much time remaining before it will.

Three major story lines are bound to intersect, if only because space and time require a continuum. Of the three, only one is pegged to a certain moment — and even that is not quite as certain as it seems. The polls will close in Alabama at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 12. Soon thereafter, we’ll have the freshest verdict on the persuasive power of the Republican party. We’ll also have a new U.S. senator.

Put a pin in that for later reference, because plenty of elected officials in Washington will be doing exactly that.

When the U. S. Senate passed its version of a tax overhaul before dawn on Saturday morning, Republicans were hoping the House of Representatives would just pass the Senate’s version, thus avoiding a conference committee and another Senate vote on the final bill. Those hopes were dashed — or maybe slap-dashed — by Senate leadership’s hurried work to gain the bill’s passage.

After a day of blessed rest, senators see fixes they’d like made to a final bill, and the conference committee is where that work will be done. Trouble is, there are many other “fixes” that the House may demand once the fixing begins. Both sides are hoping the conference committee can work quickly. They want to finish this bum’s rush before the bums stir.

Their job, for once, was made easier by President Trump when he suggested that he’d accept a deal where the corporate rate is cut to 22 percent instead of 20 percent.

If you’ve ever bought a condo or a car from the likes of a Donald Trump, the move was predictable. After holding firm on the price tag throughout the negotiation, a shrewd salesperson is trained to swiftly raise the hook to reel in the sale. The buyer thinks they got free granite countertops or complimentary undercoating. It’s a classic move to seal the deal.

Congress now can use the extra revenue to add back many of the goodies members had requested. The trouble may come if corporate benefactors threaten to reduce campaign contributions. If corporations feel like they’re paying for those free granite countertops, Congress may cow. Congresspeople used to respond first to constituent concerns, but now their first concern is keeping their seat, and that requires lots of cash.

But cash is not enough. They also need momentum. Republicans are relying on the tax bill to give their members momentum, as the calendar turns to 2018. But two other headlines could slow that surge before it’s achieved.

The federal government is due to run out of cash next week. Republicans have been counting on a substantial bloc of “good government” Democrats to avoid a government shutdown, but Democrats see no reason to keep this particular version of the government open.

If Democrats hold out, will the Republican Freedom Caucus members vote to keep government open, even for only two weeks? If the government shuts down before the tax bill passes, all bets are off. How will shuttered national parks and apologetic federal offices play in Alabama, as they head to the polls next Tuesday? Lawmakers will delay any potential career-ending moves. They’ll wait.

If Alabama votes before the final tax bill passes, the stakes will immediately become higher and the margins slimmer. If Republican Roy Moore wins, he and his Svengali, Steve Bannon, would like nothing more than to embarrass Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as their first move.

If Democrat Doug Jones wins, or even if it’s uncomfortably close, you’ll see many Republican lawmakers heading for the exits or hiding under their desks. Leadership in Congress will lose control. Self-preservation instincts will take over.

So, to recap, the tax bill can pass if Congress gets to a final vote this week, or if lawmakers avoid a government shutdown, or if Alabama doesn’t spook Republicans. A gripping finale is just days away, and the pages are turning themselves.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs