WASHINGTON ― After months of negotiation and decades of asserted fiscal conservatism, the House passed a two-year, $2.7 trillion spending deal Thursday that includes what is likely the largest ever increase to the debt ceiling.
Despite President Donald Trump’s support for the deal, the majority of Republicans bucked the president and voted against the measure.
Rank-and-file Republicans voted no. GOP leaders who supported the bill still managed to criticize the legislation. And Freedom Caucus leaders wrote a USA Today op-ed calling the bill “deeply flawed.”
“This is a bad deal for the president,” Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Jody Hice (R-Ga.) and Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) wrote. “It’s a bad deal for conservatives. Most importantly, it’s a bad deal for the forgotten men and women who voted to shake up Washington, D.C. when they sent President Trump to the White House.”
“This is not draining the swamp,” the lawmakers continued. “It’s feeding the swamp and entrenching the status quo.”
Republicans felt they had little reason to vote for the deal, which would raise spending caps by $320 billion and suspend the debt limit until July 31, 2021. They weren’t part of the negotiations ― this was a deal worked out between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin ― and they didn’t feel the need to vote yes while in the minority.
Instead, Democrats mostly supplied the votes.
While a few progressives voted against the legislation, the majority of the Democratic opposition came from vulnerable moderates, perhaps sensing how Republican opponents may try to use the spending deal against them.
Even with Trump’s support, Republicans maligned the legislation for failing to provide any meaningful spending cuts.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who supported the deal, nonetheless lamented that congressional Republicans had so little input in the negotiations. He said the GOP had $500 billion in offset cuts they wanted in exchange for the massive spending deal and debt limit suspension.
Mnuchin had also first insisted on $150 billion in cuts, but Pelosi talked the administration down to about $77 billion in cuts ― most of which will never actually take place.
“It’s not the bill I’d write by myself,” McCarthy said Thursday. “It’s a compromise as we move forward, but it actually allows this process to work.”
The two-year deal sets new limits for defense and non-defense spending. Those agreements will allow Senate appropriators to finally write their government funding bills to those new levels, laying the tracks for another spending deal in September. The Senate is expected to pass the legislation next week before they leave for their August break.
The government is only funded through September, so it was critical that lawmakers pass the legislation to give appropriators time to write a final spending deal to avert a shutdown.
Avoiding another shutdown is a key priority of both parties, and this deal sets the outlines for making sure the government is funded for the duration of Trump’s term. A key part of negotiations was the agreement that Democrats and Republicans would not include certain “poison pill” amendments ― policies that would garner a majority to get the provisions in the legislation, but would prevent other lawmakers from voting for the bill, or the president from signing it.
There are no limitations on the president’s ability to build a border wall using funds he redirects through his emergency declaration, and the so-called Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal dollars from going to abortions, is also preserved in the bill.
There was some concern from Democratic leaders that progressives would balk at those provisions. After all, using appropriations bills to limit the administration is one of the few ways Democrats can restrain Trump. And leaders also worried that liberals would have problems with the massive amount of defense spending approved in the bill.
Progressives prevented Democrats from approving a budget this year over concerns that the defense number was too high ― and as Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) noted on Thursday, the defense number in this deal is even higher.
But the Democratic opposition never really materialized.
Instead, Democrats touted how this spending deal would finally end the threat of sequestration ― the spending caps established for 10 years in 2011 ― and take care of raising the debt ceiling before the Treasury can no longer issue new debt in mid-September.
“This is about finally moving us past the threat of sequestration,” Yarmuth said Thursday. “It’s about upholding the full faith and credit of the United States. It’s about providing much-needed certainty to our communities and for our economy.”
Pelosi also praised the deal for “permanently ending the threat of sequestration.”
“That is a very important measure,” Pelosi said. “The administration has joined us to end the devastating sequestration cuts which threaten our investments to keep America No. 1 in the global economy, and again ensure our national security.”
There’s a certain poetic justice in ending sequestration with a two-year spending deal. Trump’s chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, was a key proponent of the legislation when he was a freshman member of Congress in 2011. Now, he’s working to forever undo the effects of those spending caps.
When Trump called a media availability in the Oval Office last week to praise the deal, inside the room were Republicans like Mulvaney, Vice President Mike Pence and NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, also a former Freedom Caucus member.
Trump said he couldn’t imagine “anybody using the debt ceiling as a negotiating wedge.”