On Washington: Why Congress’s Bipartisan Budget Deal Should Make Trump Worried

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By insisting on proposals that both parties on Capitol Hill knew could not pass — the border wall funding in particular — the White House took itself out of the game and ceded power to Congress. Members of both parties, freed to direct money to favored initiatives, eagerly seized the opportunity and increased funding for agencies such as the National Institutes of Health rather than cutting it.

“Although this wasn’t the bill I would have written on my own, we showed that when Democrats and Republicans work together and reject President Trump’s demands, we can make progress and get things done for the workers, women and middle-class families we represent,” said Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the No. 3 Senate Democrat.

Democrats were in a celebratory mood, issuing news releases highlighting pet projects included in the measure to be voted on this week. “Omnibus Bill Reflects Democrats’ Values to Protect Health Care, Environment and Education,” read the headline on a letter from Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader.

Republicans, perhaps in no rush to stick their thumb in the eye of a president known for his itchy Twitter finger, were more restrained. But many are not enthusiastic about the border wall, and there was plenty in the 1,665-page bill for them to like, such as an increase in Pentagon spending and more money to reduce the opioid addiction plaguing many of their states.

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, professed particular satisfaction at a permanent extension of health benefits for retired coal miners and assistance for communities and workers hit by the downturn in coal mining. The deal was exactly the sort of something-for-everyone grab bag that used to be a standard feature of Congress before the breakdown in passing the annual spending bills.

Most of the displeasure with the legislation was being expressed off Capitol Hill by conservative groups that found it a rank capitulation to Democrats and Trump opponents.

“The late-night closed-door budget deal provides no funding for President Trump’s signature promise of a border wall,” said Bob Dane, the executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “Other provisions of the budget deal effectively sell out the very people who delivered key swing states to him last November.”


The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, was pleased that the budget deal continued health benefits for retired coal miners. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

At the White House, Sean Spicer, the spokesman, played down any defeats for the White House and said the president’s priorities would be better reflected in the coming budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. He portrayed new border security funding included in the current budget deal as a step toward constructing the wall.

“Make no mistake: The wall will be built,” he said.

But this budget deal made it abundantly clear that Democrats retain real leverage on spending because of the Senate filibuster. Getting them to go along with the funding for the wall probably will not get any easier in the next budget. Mr. Trump himself expressed new frustration with the Senate in an interview aired Sunday by CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“I think the rules in Congress, and in particular the rules in the Senate, are unbelievably archaic and slow-moving and, in many cases, unfair,” he said. “In many cases, you’re forced to make deals that are not the deal you’d make. You’d make a much different kind of a deal.”

But after the Senate just changed procedure to ban filibusters against Supreme Court nominees, it is unlikely senators will be in a hurry to institute an even more sweeping change to gut the legislative filibuster that instills individual senators with greater power — especially to win money for a wall many of them don’t want.

Instead, members of the House and Senate now have clear evidence they can successfully work together in certain cases and deliver a product they support even if it does not do all that the White House wants. It could serve as a template for putting together the next round of spending bills.

“This gives me a great deal of optimism about getting a full-year budget for 2018 if we follow this pattern,” Mr. Schumer said.

After Mr. Trump’s election, some Republicans feared that the new president might be too willing to work with Democrats at the expense of Republicans. But the spending deal showed that it might be pragmatic Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill who are occasionally willing to get together — and that union could come at a cost to the president.

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