GOP leaders to give Trump bitter pill on spending, debt

Greg Nash

Republicans leaders are crafting a must-pass bill that will likely infuriate both conservatives and President Trump’s base. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) are expected to move legislation that will keep the government funded until December and raise the nation’s debt limit high enough to last beyond the 2018 midterm elections without funding for the U.S.-Mexico border wall or significant spending reforms favored by conservatives.

{mosads}GOP leaders in the Senate will sweeten the deal by adding billions of dollars for Hurricane Harvey relief, but that won’t mollify the right on and off Capitol Hill. Yet, this type of measure will attract bipartisan support and probably have enough backing to get to Trump’s desk later this month.  

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Tuesday that the upper chamber will seek to attach legislation raising the debt limit to a Hurricane Harvey relief bill that the House is expected to approve on Wednesday. But that sets up a possible conflict with House GOP leaders. 

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has indicated the House bill providing relief to communities hit by Harvey would not include language raising the debt ceiling.

Senate leaders are assuming that Trump will sign the legislation into law instead of risk a government shutdown or a credit crisis that could imperil the government’s ability to pay its bills. 

“These are the president’s immediate priorities: pass disaster relief, prevent a default, fund the government. They are my immediate priorities as well,” McConnell told colleagues on the Senate floor Tuesday. 

“We have to get all three of these things done, and we have to do it very quickly,” he added.

But others aren’t convinced Trump will embrace such a bill. 

“I hope the president tells Congress if that kind of package is on the table they should stuff it,” said David Bozell, president of For America, a conservative advocacy group.

Trump threatened to shut down the government over border wall funding at a campaign-style rally in Phoenix last month, though he has softened his tone since Harvey made landfall. 

“I keep going back to May, when the omnibus package was passed and Trump signed it in the middle of the night in Bedminster with no cameras around. That’s not winning to him, and I don’t think he’s going to put himself through that again,” Bozell added.

Trump signed the $1.2 trillion spending package at his golf club in New Jersey without any media around after GOP leaders left out funding for the construction of the border wall that he had demanded and was one of his top campaign promises in 2016. 

Bozell argued that Trump criticized the GOP establishment during the 2016 campaign for constantly “kicking the can” down the road, which is exactly what he would be doing by signing a stop-gap funding measure that didn’t have money for the wall and by raising the debt ceiling without spending reforms.

“He campaigned for the wall. He told everybody he was not going to do the CR business, that was one of the main things in his stump speeches,” Bozell added, making reference to the continuing resolution needed to avoid an October shutdown.

GOP leadership sources, however, predict that Trump will have to sign the bill — especially if it includes money for Harvey victims — because it would be a public relations disaster if he let them get caught in the political crossfire of other issues.

“Trump knows best about image and that taking the Hurricane Harvey victims hostage in exchange for other fiscal needs would look terrible,” said a former Republican leadership aide. “And that’s his base right there. If Texas isn’t your base, what is?”

“It’s about looking like a hero and coming to the aid of the Harvey victims,” the source added.

The former staffer noted that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is handling the debt-limit increase for the president, has called for a clean bill to avoid a fight with Democrats.

So signing a bill that raises the debt limit enough to last until 2019 without any spending reforms attached might not be viewed as a defeat by Trump.

Even so, Trump pressured McConnell over the August recess not to give up on ObamaCare, tweeting, “Mitch, get back to work and put Repeal & Replace, Tax Reform & Cuts and a great Infrastructure Bill on my desk for signing.”

Instead of getting ObamaCare repeal, a tax-reform package or an infrastructure bill in September, Trump is expected to receive a debt-limit increase tacked onto another massive spending bill that leaves out his proposed border wall.

Already, Tea Party organizers and other conservatives are railing against the likely outcome and warning that the president and other Republicans will pay a political price.

“There already is a reaction from the base that I’m seeing. People who supported President Trump are getting frustrated. More of the frustration is directed toward Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan than it is President Trump, but there are a lot of people who are extremely upset that ObamaCare has not been repealed and there is not a conservative agenda being advanced,” said Judson Phillips, the founder of Tea Party Nation.

He warns that there could be repercussions in the 2018 midterm elections because of depressed enthusiasm among conservative voters.

With 10 Senate Democrats facing reelection in states that Trump carried last year, Republicans have an opportunity to pick up seats.

But those hopes might be dashed if there’s a revolt from the GOP base.

Phillips and other conservatives are urging Trump to threaten a shutdown — or even let one occur — if that’s what’s necessary to get funding for the border wall and spending reforms attached to the debt limit.

Tags John Cornyn Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan Steven Mnuchin
See all Hill.TV See all Video