Congress agrees on spending deal
Republican and Democratic congressional leaders avoided a government shutdown by agreeing to a $1 trillion spending package this week that did not include most of President Trump’s policy initiatives. The deal funds the federal government through the end of September, and fulfills several GOP demands, including an extra $12.5 billion in military funding, and $1.5 billion more for border security. But because Republicans only control 52 seats in the Senate, eight short of the 60 required to overcome the filibuster, Democrats were able to extract a number of significant concessions. The spending package contains no money for the president’s proposed border wall, doesn’t defund Planned Parenthood, and leaves largely intact funding for government agencies that Trump wanted to gut. The Environmental Protection Agency’s budget will be reduced by only 1 percent, not 31 percent; the National Institutes of Health, another target for cuts, will receive an increase in funding of $2 billion.
Democratic leaders immediately celebrated the deal as a victory. “Early on in this debate, [we] clearly laid out our principles,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “This is an agreement that reflects those principles.” Trump initially said he was “very happy” with the agreement, calling it a “clear win” for the American people. But as the Democrats’ victory lap continued, the president angrily complained on Twitter that Republicans had been boxed in by filibuster rules, saying “a good shutdown” in September would “fix this mess.”
For Republicans, “it’s hard to chalk the bill up as anything but a loss,” said NationalReview.com. Sure, they boosted military spending, and broke the damaging Obama-era precedent that all defense funding increases must be matched by rises in nondefense spending. But the $1.5 billion for border-security improvements can be spent only on technology and repairs to existing infrastructure—not on new barriers or additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Granted, Republicans had their hands tied by the filibuster, and knew they’d “shoulder the blame for any shutdown—justifiably or not.” But for a party that controls all three branches of government, they didn’t seem to put up much of a fight.
This deal is a “victory for common sense,” said The Washington Post. Democrats “skillfully” leveraged what little power they had; Republicans did what was necessary to prevent a “politically costly” shutdown. In an era of deep polarization, it is heartening to see a bit of “good old-fashioned political horsetrading” pay off. The only loser was President Trump. By ignoring so many of his demands—not least the funding for his precious border wall— congressional Democrats and Republicans made it perfectly clear “their priorities are not [his] priorities.”
The GOP leadership actually had a “surprisingly weak negotiating position,” said Matt Yglesias in Vox.com. To get this spending bill passed, they needed the support of at least eight Senate Democrats, as well as at least some House Democrats, because hard-right House Republicans “will defect from any deal” that Democrats support. That left GOP leaders needing a bill with enough concessions to win over Democrats in both chambers—and the Democrats are determined to deny Trump any victories.
That’s why Trump is right to call for a shutdown next time, said Jake Novak in CNBC.com. The “conventional wisdom” in Washington is that temporarily bringing the government to a halt amounts to “political suicide.” But Republicans initially took the blame for the last shutdown, in 2013—only to retain the House and regain the Senate the following year “in a massive midterm election landslide.” With Democrats acting like obstructionists, and congressional Republicans acting like cowards, “a shutdown is likely the only way for the Trump team to shake the leaders of both parties” out of their inertia.
As usual, Trump is blaming others for “his own inept bargaining,” said Jonathan Bernstein in Bloomberg.com. He could have refused any concessions this time, but didn’t. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are “likely to be impressed with Trump’s threat” of a September shutdown, because his wall and spending cuts are unpopular, and he “already has a reputation as a paper tiger.” Unfortunately, Trump may decide next time that he needs to force a shutdown to avoid looking weak. If he does, it will backfire.