Since last summer, Congress has stumbled from one fiscal crisis to the next, unable to craft a long-term budget that could win 218 votes in the House, and 60 in the Senate.
But now, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer have struck a deal that can, at the very least, meet the latter requirement. The Senate leadership reached their legislative breakthrough the old-fashioned way: by throwing a bunch of money at both parties’ priorities, and punting on the divisive question of whether a vulnerable minority group deserves basic rights.
The budget deal busts through the spending caps that Congress enacted in 2011 (when Obama was president, and, therefore, Republicans cared about deficits), increasing government outlays above those thresholds by roughly $300 billion over two years. Defense hawks would enjoy an $80 billion increase in the Pentagon’s (already grotesquely large) budget this year, followed by an $85 billion bump in 2019. Meanwhile, non-defense spending would grow by $63 billion this year, and $68 billion in the following one. The deal would also suspend the debt limit until March 2019.
Overall, the product is closer to the kind of budget Barack Obama would have wanted, than the one that the Trump White House proposed last year.
The goodies for Democrats (and/or, anyone who accepts that public investment pays dividends for society) include:
•$20 billion for infrastructure.
•$6 billion for combating opioid abuse and promoting mental health.
•$4 billion for college affordability.
•$2 billion for the National Institutes of Health.
•$4.9 billion for Medicaid in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
•$80 to $90 billion in disaster relief, including $11 billion in community-development block grants for Puerto Rico.
•Two years of funding for community health centers.
•A ten-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (instead of the six-year extension that was previously passed).
One can fairly ask why on Earth we’re spending more on increasing the military’s already massive budget than on our catastrophically underfunded infrastructure system, relief for Puerto Rico, or a hundred other pressing policy challenges. But we all know the answer: The Republican Party is in power, and the military-industrial complex is a thing.
In fiscal terms, this a pretty good deal for Democrats. But it comes at the price of leaving Dreamers in the lurch — and that could be a problem for the agreement in the House.
Shortly after the deal was reached, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that without a “commitment” from Paul Ryan to bring an immigration bill to debate in the immediate future, “this package does not have my support, nor does it have the support of a large number of members of our caucus.”
Now, a verbal “commitment” to bring forward legislation in the future isn’t a huge ask. It’s more of a request for cover, than for an actual policy concession. But Paul Ryan’s office still refused to provide it.
“Speaker Ryan has already repeatedly stated we intend to do a DACA and immigration reform bill — one that the president supports,” Ryan’s spokeswoman, AshLee Strong said. Tying that pledge to Trump’s will make it useless for Pelosi, even as a fig leaf.
That could be trouble, since a good number of Republican “deficit hawks” are bound to vote against any deal that allows the government to spend money on things besides incinerating people overseas. And, in this case, the deficit scolds have a genuine argument. When you add the immediate cost of Trump’s tax cuts to the budget deal’s increase in deficit spending, you end up with a stimulus package larger than the one Obama passed in 2009. Which is pretty wild, given that unemployment is currently at a 16-year-low. The weight of the evidence still suggests that the deficit isn’t a problem, but if you’re a conservative who believes a scintilla of what you said you did during the Obama years, then you must regard this budget as an act of high treason.
Anyhow, the upshot is that Ryan needs Democratic help to get this across the finish line. And, as of this writing, Pelosi isn’t lending a hand. So, there’s still a chance that Donald Trump will get his desired shutdown: If Congress doesn’t reach an agreement by the end of tomorrow, Uncle Sam will have to close shop.