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White House seeks to put spotlight back on healthcare, tax reform

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White House seeks to put spotlight back on healthcare, tax reform

With several other issues taking center stage in Washington — notably the anticipated June 8 Capitol Hill testimony of former FBI director James Comey — the White House on June 5 tried to direct the spotlight back on President Donald Trump's legislative agenda, particularly, healthcare and tax reform.

Trump is summoning House and Senate Republican leaders to the White House for a June 6 afternoon meeting to discuss the path forward on his legislative priorities.

The president wants the summer to be focused on passing the Republicans' bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the president's fiscal-year 2018 budget, White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short told reporters June 5 during an evening briefing.

The fall will be spent reconciling the president's budget with tax reform, Short said. He said it would be unrealistic to expect the tax reform legislation before the U.S. Labor Day weekend in early September.

But Short acknowledged that the White House was competing with distractions on Capitol Hill, like the investigation into whether the Trump campaign had anything to do with the Russians' interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

"There's no doubt that keeping members focused on investigations detracts from our legislative agenda, and it detracts from what we are trying to do," Short said.

He insisted Trump's tweets about the Russia investigation, his May 9 firing of Comey and other matters have not harmed or derailed the White House's legislative efforts.

"The president is often very effective in driving our message to Congress," Short said.

Senate's healthcare bill similar to House's?

Short anticipated seeing the most activity on healthcare during June and July.

Senate Republicans have yet to unveil a draft healthcare bill. Meanwhile, the popularity of the House bill has continued to plummet since it was passed by that chamber May 4.

Short noted that because Republicans are seeking to use the budget reconciliation process for the healthcare bill, which would allow them to pass it with a simple majority of 51 votes, they are on a timeline to get it done.

Trump supports the House-passed bill, and the White House said the president worked with Congress to ensure the president's core principles were incorporated into the legislation.

Senate Republicans, however, said they are working on their own bill, which they started from scratch.

But Short dismissed the notion that the Senate's bill would differ broadly from the House legislation, which some Republicans, like Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, already have said is dead on arrival.

"That is part of the process here in this town with a bill that is certainly as complex and complicated as healthcare reform is for this country," Short said. "There is a natural step where each chamber says they will start all over. I believe that at the end of the day, you'll see probably a lot of similarities."

Short also said the White House also was not considering any hypothetical scenarios in which Trump would walk away from healthcare if the Senate does not get its bill done in the next few months — something the president said he was ready to do when the House failed to pass its legislation when it first came to the floor in March.

"We are looking to get the job done in the Senate," Short said.

Avoiding separate tax bills

Short insisted the White House and Republicans in Congress have "continued to make progress" on tax reform and were working together to produce one agreed-on piece of legislation.

"We are trying to avoid having a House bill, a Senate bill and a White House bill," he said.

Trump has said it is necessary for the healthcare overhaul to be completed before lawmakers can tackle tax reform because the expected savings from the former will be needed to support the latter.

Short also said Trump anticipates tax reform to be a bipartisan activity. He said the White House already has been engaged in several discussions with Democrats from the House and the Senate.

"That will become a bipartisan effort," Short said.

He said Trump also expects legislation aimed at improving the U.S. infrastructure also to be a bipartisan effort.

Short would not put a strict timeline on getting infrastructure legislation enacted, but said, "We hope to tackle it this calendar year."