President Donald Trump cut a deal with Congressional leaders Wednesday that will raise the debt ceiling, keep the government open and funded and secure disaster relief dollars for Hurricane Harvey.
The problem? He cut the deal with Democratic leaders – and expressly against the wishes of Republicans.
Trump agreed to a three month extension of government funding and hike to the debt ceiling through mid-December to ensure that the Harvey relief money he has requested – $8 billion or so – would quickly move through Congress.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted a longer debt ceiling extension in order to ensure that they wouldn’t be backed into a negotiating corner by Democrats later this year with the possibility of the US defaulting on its debt and the government shutting down both hanging in the balance.
Hours before Trump cut the deal, Ryan denounced such a plan in his weekly press conference. “I think that’s ridiculous and disgraceful that [Democrats] want to play politics with the debt ceiling at this moment when we have fellow citizens in need to respond to these hurricanes so that we do not strand them,” Ryan told reporters.
It’s also not clear that Democrats wouldn’t have given in to Trump’s demands for a longer debt ceiling extension or a more far-reaching government funding deal. After all, this was the first post-August recess meeting of top party leaders to discuss what will be a very busy next few months. It was their opening bid and Trump took it. Is there any real possibility that Democrats would have opposed a 12-month debt ceiling increase if it would have meant blocking billions of federal dollars for Harvey victims? No way.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, a frequent Trump critic, summed up the general GOP sentiment nicely in a brief statement: “The Pelosi-Schumer-Trump deal is bad.”
Why does this matter so much? Because the entire premise of Trump’s campaign was that he knew how to cut the best deals. That the politicians had no idea how to negotiate – and, as a result, they always got screwed.
“My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward,” Trump wrote in “The Art of the Deal.” “I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.”
In 2013, Trump himself voiced his opposition to the GOP accepting a bad deal on a debt ceiling increase. “I cannot believe the Republicans are extending the debt ceiling—I am a Republican & I am embarrassed!,” he tweeted.
The appeal of Trump for lots and lots of voters – especially Republicans – was that he had, quite literally, written the book on deal-making. They might not love everything he said or did, but he had been very successful in his deals and in his career. Maybe he could do the same for America?
This deal is not reflective of anything close to the best-case scenario for Republicans – most particularly the conservative end of the GOP conference. Not only does it set up a massively fraught end of the year in Washington, but also all of the leverage now sits with Democrats. (Bonus Trump “deal” tweet: “‘Leverage: don’t make deals without it.’ – The Art of the Deal”)
Trump didn’t extract anything from Democrats that they didn’t want to give up. And he did it all a) at the start of the negotiating process and b) against the wishes of the Republican leadership – and the desires of the GOP rank and file.
That’s not the “best” deal. It’s not even a good deal.