Bill Owens: Trump And The Democrats

Sep 12, 2017

On the evening of September the 6th, at a meeting with Mr. Trump, Ms. Pelosi and Messrs McConnell, Ryan, and Schumer a negotiation ensued to resolve the debt ceiling, Harvey relief and a Continuing Resolution (known as CR - that essentially extends current spending into the future when Congress can’t agree on specific appropriations bills).  There was a back and forth amongst the assembled with the initial offer from the Republicans being a proposal for an eighteen month CR and debt ceiling raise to be included with Harvey relief of $7.85 billion, this was countered by a three month proposal from the Democrats; the Republicans then countered only to be pushed aside by President Trump who agreed with the Democrats.

This deal means that the Government is funded and the debt ceiling raised until December 15th, 2017 along with Harvey relief funding. It also means the tension of an impending precipice will rear its ugly head in early December. 

So why would Mr. Trump agree with the Democrats?  Does he think their proposal made the most sense?  Did he find a vehicle with which to punish Republicans for failing to pass healthcare reform and to secure few other accomplishments in the first eight months of his administration?  Earlier that day Mr. Trump had punted the DACA football to Congress giving Congress six months in which to come up with legislation to resolve the DACA issue. Do Mr. Trump’s actions foreshadow a larger shift in the administration’s approach, or is this just a short-term tactic to demonstrate to Republicans that they need to support his agenda?

It is always hard to dissect Mr. Trump’s reasoning, motives and end game, and this is no exception.  These actions raise the hackles of many, particularly Republicans, head scratching by Pundits, and I suspect some confusion on the part of the public, whether a fan or not of President Trump. 

A clean Harvey bill passed with only three ‘no’ votes in the House.  A clean bill means that there are no extraneous matters other than the issue at hand which are contained in the bill. 

Mr. Ryan will likely be faced with a larger group of dissenters for the legislation passed on Thursday September 7th, 2017 by the Senate as they must now vote not on a clean Harvey relief bill, but rather one that contains a debt ceiling raise and a CR with which many will disagree because it fails to cut spending and raises the debt ceiling.  I suspect Mr. Ryan will experience great difficulty in securing the necessary House Republican votes to ensure passage leaving passage to fall squarely on Democrats. 

In my view, from the country’s perspective, it would have been better to have an eighteen (18) month CR, debt ceiling raise and Harvey relief, rather than going through this process multiple times over the next eighteen (18) months.  This would give stability to the government, and government operations; would eliminate many of the threatened cuts from the Trump administration (Public TV and Radio, Planned Parenthood, State Department, etc.) for that period, and would have a palliative effect on the economy, including the stock market.  This may well be a pyric victory for Democrats, as they too will likely be faced with numerous debt ceiling and CR crises.  On the other hand, it creates the potential to put Republicans in a no-win situation.  If they vote ‘no’ in mid-December on a CR and debt ceiling raise, then they could very well be blamed for a government shut-down, in fact, they would be.  If they vote ‘yes’, that will enflame the ire of their base. 

This is a complex game of poker; many players, some evident, some less so.  We also have the motivations of Mr. Trump which are difficult to judge and analyze, as I think we have all come to learn over the last eight months.

Let me lastly comment on the Republican eighteen month strategy, which is politically motivated, and by no means do I believe Republicans were motivated to give the country stability.  This was an effort to get a CR and debt ceiling raise – one time, approximately fourteen months before the next election, and to eliminate the need for Republican members of the House and Senate to take difficult votes for the reasons I described above.  It appears to me the swamp is still rising, and Mr. Trump has done little to quell it. 

I would also note that NAFTA Day 2 resulted in no material progress, so we meander on in that sphere as well.

Mr. Owens is a former member of Congress representing the New York 21st, a partner in Stafford Owens in Plattsburgh, NY.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.