Trump sides with Democrats on debt limit

WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump has forged a surprising deal with Democrats in Congress to extend the US debt limit and provide government funding until Dec 15, embracing his political adversaries and blindsiding fellow Republicans in a rare bipartisan accord.

On Wednesday, Mr Trump, living up to his reputation for unpredictability, met congressional leaders from both parties and overruled the Republicans and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who wanted a longer-term debt-limit extension rather than the three-month Democratic proposal the President embraced.

"We could have done a one-year deal today," Mr Mnuchin told reporters aboard Air Force One later that day.

He said Mr Trump chose a short-term deal to keep his options open on possibly raising military funding later this year, suggesting a longer-term government funding deal might have blocked that.

Mr Trump is very focused on military spending, "particularly with what's going on in North Korea and other parts of the world today", Mr Mnuchin said.

"The President wasn't willing to give up his need for additional military spending."

If passed by the Republican-led Congress, the three-month agreement would avert an unprecedented default on US government debt, keep the government funded at the outset of the fiscal year beginning on Oct 1, and provide nearly US$8 billion (S$11 billion) in aid to victims of Hurricane Harvey.

  • 3

    Number of months of the extension of the debt limit in the Democratic proposal. 

  • $11b 

    Value of aid to victims of Hurricane Harvey. 

"It was a really good moment of some bipartisanship and getting things done," top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said.

Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said yesterday that he understood Mr Trump's motivation for reaching a deal with the Democrats but acknowledged that he continues to think it could be risky for the economy.

"What the President didn't want to do is have some partisan fight in the middle of the response to this," Mr Ryan said, referring to the hurricane. "He wanted to make sure we had a bipartisan moment."

Before Mr Trump made the deal, Mr Ryan had called the strategy "ridiculous."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, overridden by Mr Trump during the meeting, said he would bring the deal to the Senate floor for a vote.

"The President can speak for himself, but his feeling was that we needed to come together, to not create a picture of divisiveness at a time of genuine national crisis," he told reporters.

The agreement was an uncommon instance of bipartisan compromise since Mr Trump took office in January.

"We had a very good meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer," Mr Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One.

"We agreed to a three-month extension on debt ceiling, which they consider to be sacred, very important. Always we'll agree on debt ceiling, automatically because of the importance of it."

Conservative groups were aghast, accusing Mr Trump of caving in to the Democrats rather than insisting on spending cuts to accompany the debt ceiling increase, and some hardline Republicans expressed opposition to it.

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2017, with the headline 'Trump sides with Democrats on debt limit'. Print Edition | Subscribe