What Changes From September to December?

Regardless of what your theory is about why Trump decided to side with the Democrats on a short-term deal to fund the government, provide hurricane relief and raise the debt ceiling, the deal was struck. It has now passed both the House and Senate (with only Republicans voting against it) and awaits the president’s signature.

It is now time to think about what comes next. There are some relatively smaller things that need to get done—like extending the CHIP program, while the Democrats will focus on passing some form of the DREAM Act. But the big items are a budget and, for Republicans, tax reform. Those were all on the table before this deal was struck, and they remain there, with the added issue of a three month horizon on the budget and another debt ceiling increase.

How will the deal that was struck in the White House this week affect those items? The smaller ones are likely to get caught up in attempts to use them as leverage on the budget. So let’s focus on the budget and tax reform. Did striking a deal with Democrats help or hurt Trump and Republicans in those efforts?

It is clear that a lot of Republicans, especially in the House Freedom Caucus and Republican Study Committee (what I’ve called the “lunatic caucus”) are furious. It is telling that Mnuchin and Mulvaney were not able to give them any assurances that the president would meet their demands in December when the next deadline hits on the debt ceiling and budget.

Walker said that Mnuchin and Mulvaney were unable to answer questions from members about how the White House would approach votes on the budget and debt ceiling in December. Brat also lamented that the pair were not able to lay out a plan for “fiscal sanity” to be employed later this year.

The reason those guys can’t make any promises, especially on the debt ceiling, is that Trump has already signaled that he might be willing to abandon the Republicans again by working with Schumer to eliminate it. But he’s already released his budget, which includes massive spending cuts to domestic programs and huge increases in military spending. As we know, Trump’s idea of tax reform means giving big tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations, probably because it benefits him. Will he concede on those issues as well in order to gain Democratic support? Has the question even crossed his mind? According to Mulvaney and Mnuchin it sure doesn’t sound like it.

I doubt that any of the Republicans who are complaining now will abandon Trump because of his latest move if he sticks to his guns on the budget and tax cuts. The real question is whether they have been chastened or emboldened by these events. This headline gives us our first clue about where things are headed: “Freedom Caucus Might Go Rogue on Tax Reform.” The administration’s inability to provide any assurances about their plans guarantees that outcome. They don’t know what Trump will do because he doesn’t. As we saw with Ryan and McConnell going into the meeting this week, they don’t seem to have a plan either—which is why they wanted a longer extension. That not only emboldens the lunatics, it is a recipe for chaos.

Does anyone think that any of this will magically come together in December? I don’t think so. The best bet right now would be another short-term extension combined with whatever Democrats propose in order to get their buy-in. You see how this works?

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.