WASHINGTON – Right-wing firebrand Ann Coulter offered a surprising pat on the back after Congress passed a spending bill last week that boosted Democratic priorities far more than did similar deals struck under President Barack Obama.
"CONGRATULATIONS PRESIDENT SCHUMER!" tweeted Coulter, author of a book – apparently now outdated – called "In Trump We Trust."
Coulter was by no means the only conservative figure to think Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, came out the big winner in the budget negotiations of recent months.
"This is a complete grand slam for Schumer!” declared radio host Mark Levin.
"Chuck Schumer is like a cat who ate the canary," lamented conservative talker and Fox Network host Laura Ingraham.
Schumer's accomplishment – a huge increase in spending on programs that Democrats like – highlighted the passage of the $1.3 trillion legislation to fund the government through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year. But Schumer's winning hand at the bargaining table was one of several noteworthy turns involving local lawmakers and how they dealt with the spending measure.
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, also a New York Democrat, voted against the bill – then issued 11 press releases, including several with Schumer, praising parts of it.
Rep. Chris Collins, a Clarence Republican and a deficit hawk when Obama was president, voted for the deal and praised it – even though President Trump himself criticized it and nearly vetoed it.
And Rep. Tom Reed, a Corning Republican, stood among the dwindling number of Republicans to reject the measure as a budget-buster.
Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, played little role in the bill's negotiation and did the predictable thing afterward, voting for it.
But what every other one of the local congressional delegation did regarding the bill stood out. Here's how:
You can see Schumer's win in the bottom line. Under the budget agreement that spawned the spending bill, domestic spending will increase by $131 billion over two years, compared to a mere $40 billion two-year increase that the Republican Congress agreed to in 2015 when Obama, a Democrat, was president. That means a host of causes near and dear to Democrats – including health care, infrastructure and college affordability – will get a boost.
Republican sources said they had to agree to those domestic spending increases to get something PTrump wanted: a $165 billion increase in defense spending.
But Schumer sure sounded happy with the deal.
“Every bill takes compromise, and there was plenty here, but at the end of the day we Democrats feel very good because so many of our priorities for the middle class were included," he said. "From opioid funding to rural broadband, and from student loans to child care, this bill puts workers and families first.”
Republican activists, meantime, sounded profoundly unhappy. They noted the deal didn't give Trump the $25 billion he wanted for a wall at the Mexican border. Instead, it boosted overall border security, for the wall and everything else, by just $1.6 billion.
“This was like Christmas for Democrats,” Ingraham said. “I mean, domestic spending goes through the roof ... Planned Parenthood … totally funded! Meanwhile, Trump gets a fraction of what he wanted. And zero, and I mean zero funding for that big beautiful concrete border wall."
Talk radio's Rush Limbaugh was equally appalled, raving: "This budget is designed to make Trump voters conclude: ‘You know what? There isn’t gonna be a wall and there isn’t gonna be anything serious on immigration and so having Trump be president is meaningless.' "
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the "omnibus" spending bill's defense boost and several other items in it while grudgingly conceding that he had to give in to Democrats to some degree.
“These provisions, and the entirety of this omnibus, represent months of bipartisan work," said McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.
Gillibrand, for and against
Judging by her news releases, you would think that New York's junior senator stood in strong support of last week's budget deal. They praise various parts of it, ranging from funding for U.S.-Israel defense programs to an investment in rural broadband to "Major Victories for Upstate New York."
But Gillibrand voted against the bill, arguing that it was drawn up in secret and that members had little time to review the 2,232 page measure.
"You can almost guarantee that any bill negotiated behind closed doors and rushed to a vote before anyone could even read the full document isn’t a great piece of legislation," she said. "I cannot support this secretive process led by Republican leaders or the bill that it produced."
As for why Gillibrand trumpeted parts of the bill while voting against it, she made clear there were lots of good parts of it, just as she made clear in her releases.
"I appreciate the hard work of Senator Schumer in getting many important things in this bill that I have championed and for holding the line against a slew of dangerous policy riders," Gillibrand said.
Collins came to Congress as a budget hawk, yet he voted for the spending bill and the budget that preceded it.
"Hard-working Americans can be assured that Congress is spending taxpayer dollars wisely to make sure our children can feel safe in their schools, our towns and cities have sound infrastructure, and we are closing gaps in security at our borders," he said last week.
Collins voted for the bill even though he vowed to try to keep budget increases to "nearly zero" in his 2012 campaign and said two years later that “Americans deserve a federal budget that is balanced."
But the two-year budget deal doesn't come close to balancing. Instead, it increases the deficit by $296 billion.
Asked about that, Collins said he was concerned about the spending increases in many domestic programs, but explained they were the price Republicans had to pay to increase funding for the military.
"Our nation’s debt and deficit continue to be of great concern," Collins said. "It’s unfortunate that our military was in such desperate shape after eight years of Obama, so giving our fighting men and women the resources they need was a top priority."
Some 145 Republicans voted for the spending bill. Reed was one of only 90 who opposed it; he said it was one more step toward budget doom.
"We are at the tipping point of a fiscal calamity," he said. "It's going off as we speak."
Thanks to the budget deal, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget projects that the 2018 federal deficit will top $1.2 trillion – higher than in any of the last five Obama budgets. In 2019, the deficit will grow to $1.24 trillion.
Budget experts attribute some of the coming deficit increases to the tax overhaul Republicans passed last year, which Reed and Collins supported. Reed conceded the tax bill will boost the deficit in the short run, adding, "I'm willing to make that investment for the long term."
Over the next few years, Reed said he expects the tax cuts in the bill to spur economic growth that will help limit the growth in the deficit. But he worries that the big-spending ways of both parties will lead to big trouble for the nation.
Within a decade, he noted, the annual interest on the federal debt is expected to reach $1 trillion, saddling future taxpayers with a huge bill with no benefits.
The budget deal could have been an opportunity to lighten that load by cutting spending, Reed said.
"It was a huge missed opportunity," he said.