In its last act before the summer recess, and with the President’s help, the Democrat-controlled House passed a budget deal Thursday that increases spending, allows for more borrowing, and lifts the nation’s debt ceiling until 2021. Most Republicans— 132 of them— defied the presidential whip and voted against it. The Senate will take up the bill next week, and President Trump is expected to sign it. In once again lifting the debt ceiling, Congress has provided the solution, as only it can, to a problem it created.
The deal is, unquestionably, a decisive win for Speaker Pelosi (D-CA) and the Democrats— and a defeat for what remains of fiscal conservatism. The administration had initially demanded $150 billion in cuts to domestic spending as a condition for raising the debt ceiling. However, as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin warned his department was running out of cash— and accounting tricks— sooner than anticipated, the focus quickly shifted toward finding a deal. Instead, the Democratic bill includes a little more than half of the cuts, $77.4 billion, most of which wouldn’t be enacted until well after Trump leaves office. In exchange for Democrats’ desires for more money for domestic programs, Republicans get more funding for the military. All of us get more debt.
For the hardline House Freedom Caucus, the bill was “deeply flawed.” In an op-ed for the USA Today, Reps. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Jody Hice (R-GA), and Warren Davidson (R-OH) explained why they, and 129 of their colleagues, would oppose the agreement. “With the national debt rapidly approaching an astonishing $23 trillion, it’s obvious what Congress should be focused on,” they write. “A budget agreement that responsibly cuts spending and sets the country on a track to fiscal solvency.” The deal is estimated to add another $1.7 trillion to the national debt. President Trump will have added $4.1 trillion to the national debt since taking office, as soon as he puts pen to paper.
On the Democratic side, leadership took a minor victory lap, after failing to unite the House caucus last month around a border aid package. “I wanted it to be very clear, the unity of the Democrats, what we did there,” Pelosi told reporters. “It was hard to tell Democrats to vote for an agreement which is negotiated and is a compromise when it is so one-sided on the vote. But nonetheless, they supported what we did.” The 219 Democrats who voted for it were enough to get the bill passed, a fact not lost on Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD). “We passed it on our own!” Still, some Democrats, particularly on the left, bristled at domestic spending cuts without also reducing “the bloated Pentagon budget.” The bill split “The Squad”: Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) voted for it, Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) voted against.
While nothing is certain until the ink is dry in the Oval Office, the budget deal provides two years of fiscal peace between the President and Congress, whoever they may be in 2021. Hoyer said during floor debate on the bill to “make no mistake, we’re going to have to make some tough decisions in the years ahead to make sure our fiscal house is in order.” Never cut today what you can spend tomorrow. While they’re at it, this or a future Congress might consider unchaining the federal government— and, for that matter, the rest of the world— from the weapon of mutually-assured mass destruction known as the debt ceiling. Instead, they prefer patting themselves on the back, as they did again Thursday, for putting out the fire they started.