- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2017

President Trump won his first major bipartisan legislative victory Thursday as senators approved the debt and spending deal he struck with Democratic leaders, in what Mr. Trump promised was a new era of bipartisanship in Washington.

Democratic leaders, who just days earlier vowed to resist the president and called him cowardly and beholden to racists, now say they can see their way to working with Mr. Trump, at least when it comes to borrowing and spending to keep the government open.

The deal, which is expected to clear the House on Friday, would inject more than $15 billion into funds to cover immediate costs for victims of Hurricane Harvey and expected victims of Hurricane Irma. The agreement also funds the government through Dec. 8, avoiding a potential shutdown later this month, and extends the Treasury Department’s borrowing powers through early December, avoiding a default on obligations.

Mr. Trump said it marked a new beginning after two years of sniping on the campaign, followed by months of resistance by Democrats to every facet of the president’s agenda.

“I think we will have a different relationship than we’ve been watching over the last number of years. I hope so,” the president said. “I think that’s a great thing for our country. And I think that’s what the people of the United States want to see. They want to see some dialogue.”

Looking to expand on the cooperation, Mr. Trump said Thursday that he is interested in working with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, to try to eliminate the government’s borrowing limit.

“For many years, people have been talking about getting rid of debt ceiling altogether, and there are a lot of good reasons to do that. So certainly that is something that could be discussed,” the president said.

Mr. Trump also took advice from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, by issuing a tweet assuring illegal immigrant Dreamers that they don’t have to worry about being deported over the next six months, the period during which Mr. Trump phases out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“I said, ‘I’m going to ask the president to do …’ And — boom, the tweet appeared, so that was good,” Mrs. Pelosi said.

She said Mr. Trump gave Democrats leverage by agreeing to a short-term debt hike, giving Democrats another chance to get concessions when Congress has to revisit the issue in December.

Mrs. Pelosi said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, helped Democrats’ cause when he insisted that the stopgap funding bill, known in Washington as a continuing resolution, or “CR,” be tied to the debt increase.

“The fact that they brought up the CR really strengthened our hand,” she said.

As he moved toward Democrats, Mr. Trump saw the first signs of fraying support from his own Republican troops on Capitol Hill.

Senators approved the debt and spending deal on an 80-17 vote, but all 17 opponents were Republicans.

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican and one of the opponents, said the deal marked a shift in power in Washington, with Mr. Schumer showing he has outmaneuvered the entire Republican leadership.

“Do your constituents know that Chuck Schumer — whose title is minority leader, not majority leader — just made himself the most powerful man in America for the month of December?” Mr. Sasse said on the Senate floor. “Chuck Schumer has made himself the key man in all negotiations in December because of the legislation we’re going to pass today.”

Mr. Schumer described the deal as a compromise, though analysts said Democrats got exactly what they requested.

“I give the president credit for understanding that in the Oval Office when Leader Pelosi and I made the compromise suggestion,” Mr. Schumer said.

Substantively, the deal isn’t a major giveaway for Republicans. They were eager to embrace the hurricane relief funds and had already said they would approve a short-term spending bill to last into December.

The major losses for Republicans are procedural and symbolic.

Mrs. Pelosi said Mr. Trump assured her he wants to sign a bill granting citizenship rights to illegal immigrant Dreamers — an assurance that could undercut congressional Republicans’ efforts to win stiffer enforcement measures.

On the debt ceiling, Republican leaders wanted a longer-term increase, delaying the need for another difficult vote into next year or even 2019.

Mr. Trump’s suggestion to eliminate the debt limit altogether also took Capitol Hill Republicans off guard.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said it was a nonstarter, saying the ability to set a borrowing limit is one of the powers the Constitution grants to Congress in order to control spending.

“I think there’s a legitimate role for the power of the purse in Article I powers, and that’s something that we defend here in Congress,” he said.

The government’s debt ceiling stands at just shy of $20 trillion right now. This week’s bill will allow that to rise by as much as the government needs through early December, when the limit will be reimposed.

The $15.25 billion in disaster relief money includes $7.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s fund to cover immediate costs for storm victims, $450 million for the Small Business Authority disaster loan program, and $7.4 billion for Community Development Block Grants, a Housing and Urban Development program to help local governments begin to rebuild.

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