Today was a great day for congressional Democrats and a very bleak day for congressional Republicans as Trump sided with the former over the latter without so much as trying to negotiate some kind of deal.
According to widespread reports, Trump more or less ignored Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker Paul Ryan, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin during a meeting at the White House today where he sided with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on a package of bills.
While the Republicans in the room sought to raise the debt ceiling for an extended period of time, Democrats insisted on a 3-month extension that will accompany a 3-month continuing resolution to fund the federal government in fiscal 2018. Trump agreed with Democrats.
He brushed aside calls from Republican congressional leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for a longer extension to the debt limit, which Republicans had been aiming for to avoid having to take another vote on the politically toxic issue before the 2018 elections. [...]
“We had a very good meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One, not bothering to mention House Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who also were present. “We agreed to a three-month extension on debt ceiling, which they consider to be sacred, very important.”
Like many people who will read this news today, it's possible Trump doesn't fully appreciate what this could mean for his own agenda.
We all expected to see another continuing resolution to keep the government running beyond the end of the month, but a bill that will raise the debt ceiling for only a brief period of time was not under discussion before now.
Ordinarily, this would be a bad thing. No one wants to see Congress play chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States on a month-to-month basis, however this will greatly reduce the chance that Republicans will be able to pass "tax reform" (read: tax cuts for the rich) before the end of the year while they're occupied with yet another fight over basic government funding and the debt ceiling.
And that's not the only thing this will give congressional Democrats leverage over. They could use the debt ceiling and government funding to negotiate virtually anything including a possible measure to codify the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program or even Obamacare's cost-sharing subsidies.
Given that Republicans hold majorities in both chambers of Congress, these tactics should not afford Democrats any leverage, but it does because there are enough Republicans (particularly in the Freedom Caucus) opposed to basic government funding that congressional Republican leadership need Democratic votes to pass it.
At least some Republicans appear to grasp the potential consequences of this.
i am told by multiple sources Rs are furious. The Democratic ploy — to keep debt limit short term — worked. It took just a few hours
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) September 6, 2017
Just spoke to a top Republican close to leadership about Trump's decision. Here's what they said: pic.twitter.com/iV2y0bVfvk
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) September 6, 2017
Trump also made it very clear today that he will always cave on the debt ceiling.
Trump on debt ceiling: "Always we’ll agree on debt ceiling automatically because of the importance of it."
— Ken Thomas (@KThomasDC) September 6, 2017
If you accept the premise that neither Trump or Republican leadership will allow us to default, Democrats are free to use the debt ceiling against Republicans to obstruct their agenda as long as the deadline is on a very short leash.
The risk for Democrats and the country is minimal while the rewards (blocking tax cuts for the rich and possibly renewing DACA) could be very high.
Some people will not appreciate Democrats using the debt ceiling the same way Republicans have used it in the past, but this is a street fight. Democrats should use every play in the book to slow the GOP down.
Adding... fortunately, this tweet appeared just as I was wrapping up this post:
NEW: Trump's legislative director Marc Short says Trump agreed to shorter debt ceiling deal in order to "clear the decks" for tax reform.
— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) September 6, 2017
He has no idea. The deck is not clear.