Wednesday’s deal to keep the government open for three months has united left and right in dismay: The bipartisan agreement neither cuts spending, as conservatives wanted, nor protects the immigrants threatened by President Trump’s harsh new policies, as some liberals demanded. Still, it’s a good short-term agreement that does not foreclose action on other priorities, and a rare sign of hope in Washington.
The deal came after President Trump unexpectedly agreed to a plan by Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, overruling the objections of his own party. It raises the federal debt limit for three months, allowing the government to keep writing checks; authorizes relief for victims of Hurricane Harvey; and passes a short-term budget extension to keep the government open through the end of the year. The Senate approved the legislation on Thursday.
As policy, the bargain was modest. It’s the politics that have Washington atwitter.
The deal, which emerged after an Oval Office meeting with congressional leaders, left Republicans aghast. The party used debt-ceiling votes as leverage to try to extract spending cuts during the Obama administration, but now with a Republican in the White House is passing a no-strings-attached extension. The president also handed Democrats a political weapon they can use three months from now, when the short-term deal expires, and allowed the Democratic leadership to claim a victory.
Some Democrats also objected, and faulted Schumer and Pelosi for failing to win protections for the 800,000 immigrants endangered by the Trump administration’s decision on Tuesday to rescind the DACA program. But holding debt ceiling or government funding votes hostage to unrelated policy changes was wrong when the GOP did it under Obama, and it would be wrong if Democrats did it now. Pelosi and Schumer were right to keep the issues separate.
The big takeaway from the deal should be that the far-right wing of the Republican Party, the Freedom Caucus, was sidelined, and that the president was
willing to circumvent them even if it meant allying with Democrats. That message wasn’t lost on them; the loudest wails out of Washington have been from far-right lawmakers and allied groups like Heritage
Action for America. The president and Schumer are
also reportedly working on a deal to eliminate the debt ceiling altogether, a long overdue reform that would
deprive the Freedom Caucus of one of its favorite
The Freedom Caucus’s demands have been extreme and its tactics irresponsible. The leadership of the Republican Party has indulged them for far too long. If President Trump’s agreement with Democrats convinces them to stop making unrealistic demands and start participating in the give-and-take of politics, it could be a welcome turning point.