Talk about strange bedfellows. President Trump has struck an unlikely debt deal with Congress’ two top Democrats, sidelining his own Republicans who, by some accounts, were left steaming at the unexpected maneuver.
The agreement, struck Wednesday at an Oval Office meeting, would raise the debt limit and fund the government for three months at the same time it approved $15.25 billion in disaster relief for areas devastated by Hurricane Harvey. All are generally good decisions.
More than that, though, Trump and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., struck what is being described as a gentleman’s agreement to work toward legislation that would abolish the need to raise the debt limit at all. That’s probably a good idea, on balance, though not entirely without worries.
It’s all very startling or, at least, it appears to be. The Republican president blindsided congressional leaders of his own party to strike a deal proposed by, and beneficial to, Democrats. But startling doesn’t mean unwanted. Indeed, it’s encouraging to see the president reaching out to Democrats to achieve important goals.
Still, it’s not typical for any president to do that by ignoring his own party and it may cause Trump even more problems than he’s had with congressional Republicans. But few should be surprised. Trump has never been a real Republican.
Republicans typically favor free trade. Trump wants to rip up the nation’s trade agreements. Republicans typically frown on authoritarians (as do Democrats). Trump embraces Russian President Vladimir Putin. Republicans typically place a premium on personal morality. Trump … well, you know.
He has publicly lambasted Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and both of Arizona’s senators, Jeff Flake and the ailing John McCain, a former Republican presidential nominee. That’s unheard of.
So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that he would be willing to cut a deal with Democrats with no apparent consideration of Republicans’ interests. The fact is, he’s not really one of them.
Republicans wanted a budget and debt deal that extended further than three months and, in fact, so should Americans, generally. Short-term deals are usually troublesome. But Democrats wanted only three months, likely because it gives them leverage around Christmastime and leading into the midterm election year. For whatever reason, Trump agreed.
Even more remarkable is the president’s agreement to seek a way to end the periodic need to raise the debt limit. That requirement has become the leverage for tea party types to hold the government hostage, demanding severe spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit.
The problem is that the country owes the money. Congress approved it. It is both unconscionable and dangerous for the United States to flirt with defaulting on debts it incurred. Eliminating the need to periodically raise the limit will deflate that effort.
Still, the nation’s debt is a real and legitimate public concern. If Congress is going to do away with debt limit votes, which it should, it needs to do something else to ensure that the issue remains before the public. It will be interesting to see if Trump and Democrats can agree on that, as well.