by Edmund Hart
Trump made waves last Wednesday by siding with Democrats on a plan to extend the government debt limit for three months and provide $15 billion in hurricane-related aid. It is a move that avoids the bad optics of a political fight over budgets while the country deals with Hurricane Irma on the heels of the disastrous flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. It is also a rebuke of Paul Ryan’s plan to wait to lift the debt ceiling until after the 2018 midterms. This sets up a potential budgetary showdown over spending in December, which could include a fight for border wall funding. This could have a lasting impact on political discourse as primary season begins for the 2018 midterms. Similarly, Trump has punted on DACA, leaving its fate in the hands of so-called “conservative” legislators who face a populist Republican electorate which is frustrated with congress’s inability to advance the Trump agenda.
In the wake of this bi-partisan deal on debt has emerged a new working relationship between Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. The day after siding with the Democrats’ debt ceiling plan, Trump was supportive of abolishing altogether the congressional process of raising the debt ceiling, saying, “There are lots of good reasons to do that.” This congressional process has often been used as leverage in spending negotiations by budget-hawk legislators that treat increases in the country’s already massive debt as the most important issue facing the United States. Congressional Democrats would be eager to remove this impediment which leads to recurring fiscal standoffs. Schumer has instructed his fellow party members to determine a specific proposal that can be presented at the end of the year. The climax of this new association between the president and the Democrats was captured in a photograph of Trump embracing Schumer while the spectacled Schumer expressively chatters.
A working relationship between Schumer and Trump could lead to the fulfillment of a major aspect of the Trump agenda. Just four days after inauguration, Schumer announced a $1 trillion spending plan which allocated money for rebuilding roads, bridges, transportation, and sewage along with other critical infrastructure. It even included $70 billion to modernize ports, waterways, and airports. The last being a favorite talking point on the campaign trail of then-candidate Trump, who described America’s airports as “third-world.”
It is unlikely that Schumer would lead Democrats to vote for an infrastructure bill that includes any substantial funding for the border wall. The symbolic statement of building a wall on the southern border is anathema to the current and future base of the modern Democratic Party. However, Trump could secure funding for the wall through other means, such as a potential budgetary deal in December with Republican congressmen fearing their upcoming primaries or through discretionary spending allocations to DHS. An infrastructure bill without divisive wall funding would be popular with both Democrats and populist-aligned Republicans. Other moves by the administration to further restrict and enforce immigration and universally implement E-Verify would complement an infrastructure bill, and it would go a long way to rebuilding the country while providing economic opportunity to the White working class which defines Trump’s base.