- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2019

Congress gave final approval Thursday to spending increases in 2020 and 2021, but it delivered a final black eye to President Trump when nearly half of Senate Republicans refused to back the deal he struck with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The agreement did clear on a 67-28 vote. Democrats provided most of the votes in favor, signaling which party thought it got the better of the negotiations.

The deal sets limits for the next two years, freeing the spending committees to write the dozen bills that fund government operations. In the near term, the agreement lessens the chances but doesn’t entirely eliminate the risk of a government shutdown.

It also marks the end of the 2011 austerity agreement between President Obama and House Republicans. Thanks to the “sequester” cuts and budget caps, the agreement constrained at least some spending over the past decade.

Democrats cheered the end of those limits.

“This deal ends the threat of sequester permanently. That is huge,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

Most of his troops agreed. Just five Democrats opposed the bill, though two — Michael F. Bennet of Colorado and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — were among his party’s presidential primary candidates.

Republican leaders asked for the same level of support from their caucus.

“This is the agreement the administration has negotiated. This is the deal the House has passed. This is the deal President Trump is waiting and eager to sign into law,” said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

But 23 of his troops defied Mr. Trump. The defectors were Budget Committee Chairman Michael B. Enzi of Wyoming and a host of other conservatives who said the deal added too much debt.

The agreement rewrites the spending caps Mr. Obama signed in 2011. Over the next two years, the government will be able to spend $320 billion more than the current law would allow on discretionary spending. The additional money is divided roughly between defense and domestic needs.

The deal also creates a two-year debt holiday, giving the Treasury Department the power to borrow and spend as much as needed to keep the government running through July 2021, well after the next presidential election.

Based on trends, the country will likely add $2 trillion in debt over that time.

Mr. Trump, who last year said he would never sign another bloated spending deal, is backing this one. He reportedly called some senators to ask them to support the bill, preventing an even more lopsided Republican tally.

The president said he struck the deal and accepted higher debt and domestic spending in order to get Democrats to agree to higher defense spending. Rebuilding the military from what he called the hollow years of President Obama was a major campaign promise.

But Mr. Trump, in an interview with C-SPAN this week, suggested he will get more serious about cost-cutting in 2021 if he wins reelection.

“I think getting costs — now that the military is very close to being totally rebuilt — I think costs are going to be a big factor,” the president said.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, tried to lead a rebellion by blasting both Democrats and Republicans for ignoring the explosion of red ink. But he saved his worst gibes for his own party colleagues.

“The difference between the parties are the Democrats are honest. They’re very honest. They don’t care about the debt,” he said. “But here’s the problem: The only opposition we have in the country is the Republican Party, and they don’t care either.”

Mr. Paul, speaking ahead of the vote, also dismissed Mr. Trump’s defense that it makes sense to swallow other spending in order to bolster the Defense Department.

“Maybe the mission is too big. It isn’t that the budget’s too small,” the senator said.

Republican leaders, though, said they saw reasons beyond the troops to support the deal.

Democratic leaders agreed to forgo any major policy fights as they write spending bills over the next two years.

That means there will be no attempts to upset the abortion compromise that restricts federal taxpayer funding for the procedure only to cases of rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother.

It also means Democrats will not be able to use the spending process to try to derail Mr. Trump’s executive actions on immigration.

“The far left was denied any such victories,” Mr. McConnell said. “No poison pills, a big win for the White House.”

Still, Mr. McConnell, who was involved in the negotiations, has been careful to label the agreement the “Administration-Pelosi Budget Deal,” leaving his fingerprints off the final product.

Budget watchdogs said it was the latest missed opportunity for a government already spending well beyond its means.

Just stabilizing the debt at its near-record levels would require spending cuts or tax increases of about $400 billion next year and into the future, according to the Concord Coalition.

Robert Bixby, the coalition’s executive director, said that means more than sweating out waste or “taxing the rich.”

“None of this will be easy, but it beats sticking our heads in the sand,” he said. “The debt is a problem. It is not going away on its own.”

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