By Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Thursday embraced the idea raised by the Senate’s top Democrat of ending the need for Congress to periodically raise the U.S. debt ceiling, a day after stunning fellow Republicans by striking a major debt limit and spending deal with the opposition party.
Testing his new opening with Democrats, Trump also reached out to their congressional leaders on how to resolve another tricky issue, the fate of the 800,000 so-called Dreamers, young adults brought illegally to the United States as children. Trump even agreed to a request by Nancy Pelosi, the top House of Representatives Democrat, to publicly reassure the Dreamers they did not face imminent deportation.
The Senate voted 80-17 to approve the deal Trump reached with Democrats on Wednesday. The legislation included $15.25 billion in aid for areas affected by Hurricane Harvey and other natural disasters and would fund the federal government and raise its borrowing limit through Dec. 8.
The bill now goes go to the House for final congressional approval, although it faces opposition from House conservatives who traditionally favor strict curbs on federal spending.
After blindsiding Republican leaders with that agreement, Trump called Pelosi and top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer on Thursday morning, along with the Republican congressional leaders with whom he has had a tense relationship.
During a White House meeting on Wednesday involving Trump, Pelosi, Schumer, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the president and the Democratic leaders agreed to pursue legislation to end the need for regular debt ceiling increases, people familiar with the meeting said.
Trump voiced support on Thursday for the idea of eliminating the statutory cap on the U.S. Treasury Department’s authority to borrow to keep funding federal deficits and meet debt obligations.
“For many years, people have been talking about getting rid of debt ceiling altogether, and there are a lot of good reasons to do that,” Trump told reporters. “It complicates things, it’s really not necessary.”
“So certainly that’s something that will be discussed,” Trump added.
Ryan said he opposed any effort to do away with the role Congress has in approving debt limit increases, citing the powers given to Congress under the U.S. Constitution.
The United States spends more money than it raises through taxes and other revenue, and issues debt to borrow money to make up for that difference. The limit set on the amount of money it can borrow is the debt ceiling, which Congress must regularly increase in votes that often become nasty political fights that have spooked financial markets over the prospect of an unprecedented U.S. government debt default.
Hard-line conservative Republicans have often opposed increasing the debt ceiling without cuts in federal spending.
Schumer proposed eliminating the debt limit, and Trump and Vice President Mike Pence said they liked the idea, one source said. Schumer advised that Democrats and Republicans should go back to rank-and-file lawmakers to see if there is support for getting rid of it ahead of a December deadline for raising the debt ceiling again, the source said.
Schumer said on Thursday he hoped the meeting was “a ray of hope for both parties coming together on the big issues.”
Participants in the White House meeting did not get into details over whether they would seek to repeal the Treasury’s borrowing limit or revert to a past practice of automatic debt limit increases when annual budget blueprints are approved by Congress, the sources said.
DREAMERS AND DEMOCRATS
On the issue of the Dreamers, Pelosi said Trump made clear he wanted Congress to act. U.S. lawmakers for years have failed to pass comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform legislation.
On Tuesday, the president rescinded a program created by his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, that protected them from deportation and provided them work permits. Trump gave Congress six months to work on an alternative by delaying implementation until March.
Democrats want Congress to pass legislation addressing the Dreamers without other issues attached, but Pelosi did not rule out including border security measures that Trump and Ryan want.
Pelosi said that “we have a responsibility to secure our borders,” but that does not include Trump’s planned wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that is opposed by many Democrats.
“We want to do it as soon as possible to strike while the iron is hot, because public opinion is so much in favor,” Pelosi told reporters.
Pelosi said she told Trump the Dreamers needed his assurance his action did not set up a six-month period of roundup for deportation. Trump subsequently wrote on Twitter: “For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about – No action!”