- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 24, 2017

The White House on Sunday said President Trump wants to introduce an infrastructure package in January and reach for a deal with Democrats, a pivot toward bipartisanship after Republican-only efforts on health care and taxes produced mixed results this year.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, also wants to focus on bipartisan bills next year, though he listed changes to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law and a solution for illegal immigrant Dreamers — not infrastructure — as areas where work could happen.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, is pushing for entitlement reform even as Mr. McConnell takes a grim view of changes in Republican-led Washington.

Mr. McConnell said he is reluctant to tackle Social Security, Medicare and other big-spending programs without Democrats’ buy-in. “The sensitivity of entitlements is such that you almost have to have a bipartisan agreement to achieve the result,” the Senate leader said.

Mr. Ryan and Mr. McConnell plan to sit down with Mr. Trump in the new year to plot their agenda, though they are listing separate items with little overlap.

Republicans will have to unify to sustain momentum after an uneven year. They failed to repeal and replace Obamacare as promised but pushed a historic tax cut bill across the finish line before Christmas.

The most sweeping tax overhaul in decades, it cuts the corporate rate from 35 percent to 21 percent and lowers individual tax rates. It also zaps the most controversial part of Obamacare: the mandate for individuals to hold health insurance or pay a tax.

As he signed the $1.5 trillion tax cut measure into law Friday, Mr. Trump said he wants to turn to an infrastructure bill when Congress returns in January from its holiday recess.

“It’s time for us to rebuild our country,” the president said. “Infrastructure is by far the easiest: People want it, Republicans and Democrats. We’re going to have tremendous Democrat support on infrastructure. I actually wanted to save the easy one for the one down the road. So we’ll be having that done pretty quickly.”

It might not be that easy, however. Democrats said Republicans blew the $1 trillion needed to rebuild America’s crumbling roads, bridges and rails on their tax cut bill, while the administration is considering mixing federal investments with contributions from local governments and the private sector.

Marc Short, White House legislative affairs director, said Mr. Trump can get it accomplished, but only if Democrats work with Republican lawmakers, who control both chambers of Congress.

“There’s no doubt there is a pathway forward on this,” Mr. Short told “Fox News Sunday.” “The big question is, will Democrats put politics aside and work with us?”

Mr. McConnell said he does think there is room for compromise, even if infrastructure wasn’t the foremost topic at his year-end press conference.

“I don’t think most of our Democratic colleagues want to do nothing,” he said.

Mr. McConnell said he has agreed to devote floor time in January to a bill to protect Dreamers, who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. He also said he is allowing a working group of Republicans and Democrats to debate the contours of that legislation.

“There is no emergency until March, and we’ll keep talking about it and hopefully get to an outcome,” he said.

Mr. Ryan said he would use the 2019 budget process, which begins next year, to look at reforming the welfare and social safety net system to remove bad incentives and push people toward gainful work.

Yet Mr. McConnell seemed far less bullish than Mr. Ryan on the chances.

“I’ve been here a while, and the only time we’ve been able to do that has been on a bipartisan basis, and it was a long time ago. It was Ronald Reagan and [Democratic House Speaker Tip O’Neill] raising the age of Social Security, and that was before I got here,” Mr. McConnell said.

Democrats hold outsized power because of filibuster rules in the Senate, where Republicans are nursing a slim 51-49 majority heading into a midterm election year.

Mr. McConnell took aim Friday at political nemesis and former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, mocking his “political genius” in costing Republicans a Senate seat in Alabama. Democrat Doug Jones nudged aside Roy Moore, a Republican nominee dogged by his extreme views and reports that he pursued dates with teenage girls as a lawyer in his 30s.

Mr. Bannon backed Mr. Moore over interim Sen. Luther Strange, who filled Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ vacated seat and had Mr. McConnell’s support.

Mr. McConnell said the national Republican Party will take an active role in trying to recruit and push candidates who “can win in November,” taking a shot at Bannon-led forces who are seeking far-right nominees to bolster the conservative movement.

Likewise, Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican and frequent Trump critic, said he hopes Mr. Moore’s defeat will presage a pivot for the Republican Party, saying it will go extinct unless it sidelines Mr. Bannon’s brand.

“I hope it’s being marginalized. The last thing we need is to push that ultranationalist, ethno-nationalist, protectionist kind of element of the party,” he told ABC’s “This Week.” “That’s not good for us.”

Dave Boyer contributed to this article.

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