Capitol Hill leaders are increasingly confident that a massive two-year budget bill will clear Congress before the August recess, buoyed by President Donald Trump’sendorsement and minor opposition from the left and right.
The deal is expected to win wide support from across the House Democratic caucus on the floor this week, according to multiple lawmakers and aides. Some progressive Democrats have grumbled about the deal, but none have threatened to oppose it outright, and leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are still discussing it internally.
“We’re gonna pass it,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) predicted as he walked into a party leadership meeting on Tuesday night. Democrats have yet to whip the $1.37 trillion package. “I think we’ll get a good number. I don’t know if it’s gonna be huge, but we’re gonna pass it.”
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Across the Capitol, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin emphasized Trump’s support for the bipartisan budget deal during a closed-door meeting with Republican senators on Tuesday afternoon, aiming to tamp down conservative angst over the bargain’s big spending increases.
And the president tweeted Tuesday night that he fully backs the deal.
“Budget Deal gives great victories to our Military and Vets, keeps out Democrat poison pill riders,” Trump posted. “Republicans and Democrats in Congress need to act ASAP and support this deal.”
Mnuchin’s appearance came as part of a broad push from White House officials and congressional leaders to sell the budget deal to wary lawmakers in both parties, moving quickly to lock down support before votes expected to start as early as Thursday. The agreement — hammered out during weeks of negotiations between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Mnuchin — will raise spending for the Pentagon and domestic programs by $320 billion while suspending the debt ceiling until at least July 31, 2021.
GOP leaders are adamant that the increase in domestic funding is not nearly as important as the huge Pentagon boost.Mnuchin argued to Senate Republicans that the agreement was as good as Republicans can get with Democrats in charge of the House. And as Treasury secretary, winning a two-year debt ceiling increase was an important achievement.
“I just explained why this is a fairly negotiated deal with bipartisan support,” Mnuchin told reporters after his meeting with GOP senators.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also endorsed the agreement, describing it as a realistic solution to looming budget and debt ceiling problems during this era of hyperpartisanship on Capitol Hill.
“I make no apologies for this two-year caps deal. I think it’s the best we could have done in a time of divided government. The alternatives were much worse,” McConnell said.
McConnell, who hates shutdowns, argued that the deal would also ensure there are no drags on the “red-hot economy” that Trump loves to tout by getting rid of a potential debt crisis this fall and shrinking the odds of a government shutdown over the rest of Trump’s first term.
And the support among Senate Democrats is “strong,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
“Most of us understand that Speaker Pelosi and Chuck Schumer did the best they can do,” Durbin said.
Although lawmakers were already lobbying to derail it, Mnuchin on Tuesday afternoon said that Trump supports it, first to reporters and then to Senate Republicans.
“He said the president is behind it, had signed on to it and we can move forward,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who supports the deal. “The president said he is on board. Let’s take him at his word.”
With members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus railing against the deal, White House legislative aides spoke to a closed-door group of top House GOP lawmakers on Tuesday evening, where they reiterated that Trump supports the deal, according to people in the room.
Some GOP leaders however are still noncommittal, including Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), who said he is still “struggling” with the agreement.
But the House Republican leadership is working to line up votes for the measure, insisting it is the only compromise possible in a divided government.
“I know the president worked real hard to make sure he could protect the gains he’s made with the military,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) declared.
“We built up the military in the last two years. We surely didn’t want to see it go backwards,” Scalise said, adding that Trump also fought for a promise to keep “pro-life” riders in existing spending bills.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters he believed the bill would pass and Trump will “definitely, 100 percent” sign it.
Russ Vought, a longtime budget-slashing advocate turned acting Office of Management and Budget director, argued on Fox News that the deal was worth supporting because it prevented the “radical Democrats” from using the debt limit as a hostage. Vought also said he would “continue to propose cuts” to federal spending despite the lack of fiscal reforms in the bill.
Yet members on the right are unbowed.
Leaders of the House Freedom Caucus announced Tuesday they would oppose the measure, a position formally endorsed by the group Tuesday night. The two dozen or so House conservatives can’t halt the deal from going to the floor. But they hope their grievances alone could rattle Trump and sway him to oppose the deal, just as they did last winter in a clash that led to a 35-day shutdown.
Outside conservative groups also immediately moved to pan the deal, with FreedomWorks calling it a “disgrace” after the GOP ran so hard against spending increases during Barack Obama’s presidency. The Club for Growth similarly criticized it.
“The debt ceiling has proven the most effective leverage congress has had for meaningful structural reforms to deficits, spending and debt,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in an interview. “Secretary Mnuchin was there defending his position, and there was some support for it. But there are a number of other senators who recognize this is a missed opportunity.”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said leaders did not include his legislation to prevent government shutdowns, so that’s enough to give a thumbs down.
“I don’t feel a lot of obligation to support an increase in the debt ceiling,” Johnson said.
Backers of the deal are also trying to get Trump’s ear and make clear that despite the loud voices on the right, there is support in the center of the GOP.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) called the president and left him a message on Tuesday assuring his support for the deal to blunt conservative blowback because “not everybody’s encouraging him.”
“I’m all for it,” said Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). The GOP reaction is “a little mixed. But there’s a lot of support.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is almost certain to see some defections on the left, argued the massive domestic spending infusion amounts to a jobs bill for the middle class and ends the threat of blunt budget cuts due to the 2011 Budget Control Act.
Some progressives, like Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), complained that an agreement to lift the debt ceiling through the summer of 2021 could tie the hands of a new Democratic president, if Trump is voted out of office next year.
“There are parts of the deal I like, the $100 billion extra in domestic spending. I don’t like the defense increases,” Khanna said in an interview Tuesday. “And I’m concerned that it was a two-year deal. Why not a one year deal?… It seems like it’s basically handcuffing the next president.”
Pelosi sent a letter to all Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday describing the deal as “bold, bipartisan and a victory for Democrats and the American people,” the start of her own sales pitch to her caucus.
The California Democrat noted that the agreement contains a bigger boost for domestic spending than the Pentagon — roughly $10 billion more — and touted the permanent end of the Obama-era sequester cuts. Pelosi and Schumer have bragged that they are securing spending that’s $107 billion higher than the levels when Trump took office.
“We will now move swiftly to bring this legislation to the Floor, so that it can be sent to the President’s desk as soon as possible,” Pelosi wrote.
The two-year agreement does come with conditions that has some rank-and-file Democrats fearing they could lose leverage in other upcoming funding fights.
Pelosi and Schumer have committed that they will not seek “poison pill” policy riders in government funding bills for the remainder of Trump’s first term, potentially handcuffing Democrats’ ability to block Trump from again diverting funds to build his controversial border wall project between the United States and Mexico.
Dozens of House Republicans, too, are expected to support the measure on the floor to get the defense boost and align with Trump.
But whether McCarthy can get a majority of his 197-member conference to back it is unclear, especially with opposition from hard-liners in the House Freedom Caucus.