“The four [congressional] leaders and the president are fully on board with this,” Mnuchin told reporters as he left the meeting.
Trump himself praised the deal over Twitter later in the day for boosting spending on veterans and the military, writing: “Republicans and Democrats in Congress need to act ASAP and support this deal.”
Indeed, support for the legislation appeared to be consolidating, although signs of unease remained plentiful on both sides of the aisle.
The House Freedom Caucus and a number of conservative Senate Republicans announced opposition to the two-year deal, which would raise spending limits by $320 billion, complaining it adds to the ballooning deficit while doing nothing to constrain spending. Mnuchin defended the agreement, saying it was crucial to increase military spending and suspend the debt ceiling through July 2021, lifting the prospect of a full-blown financial crisis later this year.
But Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said he had told Mnuchin the deal should have included changes to take the threat of future government shutdowns off the table.
“If we don’t get a structural reform in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling, I don’t see how I can support this thing,” Johnson said.
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) said he declared his opposition to the deal during the lunch with Mnuchin. And while some senators said Mnuchin had effectively conveyed the stakes for the Pentagon budget and looming debt crisis absent a deal, others were unpersuaded after meeting with the treasury secretary.
Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) said Mnuchin’s message to senators amounted to, “ ‘Yippee yippee yay, I made a deal.’ ”
“I didn’t learn anything. . . . It was more of a rah-rah session,” Kennedy said, adding he was undecided on how he would vote. “I think it says about the United States Congress, both sides, that we really don’t have a commitment to getting control of the credit card.”
On the Democratic side, some liberals including Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) expressed consternation about a side agreement struck by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to keep controversial policy provisions off spending bills. This would include agreeing not to limit Trump’s ability to transfer money to build his border wall. The practical implication of the agreement seems limited, as any such changes would require bipartisan support anyway, but White House officials were touting it as an important win.
“Very concerned about that,” Merkley said. “And I’ll have more to say after I study it more carefully.”
Despite the complaints from rank-and-file lawmakers of both parties, White House officials and Democratic and Republican leaders argued that the deal was the best they could get in divided government, blaming their political opponents.
“I make no apologies for this two-year caps deal,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said. “I think we’ve done the best we can with this divided government.”
Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said the deal was better than any of the alternatives.
“The notion of shutting down the government or defaulting on the America debt — those are unacceptable,” Durbin said.
As he left the GOP lunch, Mnuchin was asked how he would defend the deal against its GOP critics. “Well we needed a debt ceiling increase, that was incredibly important,” Mnuchin replied. “And, again, we couldn’t get a deal without getting bipartisan support, so the Democrats, they compromised on a lot of things along the way, and we had to make certain compromises.”
At a Senate GOP meeting later with Trump that was supposed to focus on Turkey, a number of lawmakers took the opportunity to praise the president’s support for the budget deal, said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.).
“People were I think reinforcing the correctness of the decision given the choices,” Cornyn said, adding that Trump did not specifically pledge to back the deal but “gave no indication otherwise.”
The budget deal, announced Monday, would suspend the debt ceiling through July 2021 and raise the budget for the military and many other programs for two years. Lawmakers will still need to approve individual spending bills, but the agreement is expected to make it much less likely that there will be a government shutdown when existing agency budgets run out Oct. 1. But the budget also appears to lock in a large gap between tax revenue and government spending, which could breach $1 trillion this year and continue in perpetuity if changes aren’t made.
The government must borrow money to finance that gap and pay interest on the growing debt.
Lawmakers were rushing to cut the deal because Mnuchin had warned the Treasury could run out of money by early September to pay all of the government’s bills if the debt ceiling wasn’t raised by then. Congress is set to go on a lengthy August recess soon, leaving legislators little time to maneuver.
The House is expected to vote on the deal this week, with the Senate voting next week.
The current, dicey Washington budget drama, explained
Pelosi released a letter to House Democrats touting what she described as wins in the deal, including extending the debt limit, obtaining increased domestic nondefense spending, avoiding onerous budget caps known as “sequestration” and staving off the administration’s demands for spending cuts to accompany the budget increases.
“I urge you to support this bill, which will avoid the damage of sequestration and ensure that we can continue to advance transformative progress For The People,” Pelosi wrote.
But reaction from lawmakers in the House made clear the speaker will have to navigate opposition from liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans to pass the deal with the votes of more moderate-leaning lawmakers in both parties.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) complained about a double standard that prioritized tax cuts and spending that Republicans favored but refused to extend money for things she advocates, such as college education.
And Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) posted a video on Twitter of the Joker, a comic book villain, standing in front of a burning pile of cash, and labeled it “Budget deal.”
Acting White House budget director Russ Vought, who had fought largely unsuccessfully to secure large spending cuts as part of the agreement, acknowledged the GOP frustration and promised to push for spending reductions in the future.
“Look, I love the concern of the conservatives who are bringing attention to the problems that we have with fiscal responsibility in this town,” Vought said on Fox News.
The budget has grown markedly since Trump took office, even though he campaigned on a promise to eliminate the now-$22 trillion debt by the time he left the White House after eight years. And although the budget negotiations exposed rifts in the Trump administration between Mnuchin and other top officials, including Vought and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Mnuchin sought to gloss those over in his appearance at the Senate GOP lunch Tuesday, said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).
According to Cramer, Mnuchin “said there was never a time where we weren’t all in sync.”
Mike DeBonis, Laura Hughes, Colby Itkowitz and Paul Kane contributed to this report.