Supporters and detractors of Donald Trump (apart from Democrats) seem equally incensed that he elected to sign rather than veto a $1.3 trillion spending bill to keep the American government funded through September.
He was making noise about vetoing the bill but then had lunch with Gen. “Mad Dog” Mattis, his Secretary of Defense, who must have made a persuasive case that the substantial military funding provided for in the bill was essential and would reverse the damage done during the Obama years.
Unfortunately, the bill provided the President with a fraction of the border protection he was seeking and retained the $500 million in taxpayer support for Planned Parenthood which is an anathema to Republicans, even those who despise Donald Trump.
But the bill did incorporate passage of The Taylor Force Act which bars payment to the Palestinian Authority of American taxpayer funds to provide endless stipends to “martyrs’ families” which amount to at least $300 million per year.
As I write this – and I have combed reliable, unbiased websites for analysis on the spending bill – there remains a paucity of detail of what was included in 2,000+ page bill that was delivered to Congress the day before the vote. It is inconceivable that it was analyzed by anyone sufficiently, but we know that $1.6 billion was allocated for minimal border improvement and Sen Chuck Schumer got his $30 billion for the “Gateway Tunnel” between Manhattan and New Jersey.
That piece of pork combined with continued funding of Planned Parenthood (among other things) was the quid pro quo for the record commitment made to military spending which had been in substantial decline. While there is uniform criticism on the Republican aisle for its impact on the exploding federal deficit, there has been a quiet acknowledgment that this may have been the only way to restore the readiness of American military forces.
As this drama was unfolding, Trump made two important changes in his Cabinet. Rex Tillerson was released as Secretary of State and H.R. McMasters was replaced as National Security Adviser. They are to be replaced by Mike Pompeo, currently CIA Director, and John Bolton, former UN Ambassador under George W. Bush, respectively. Both were outspoken opponents of the JCPOA, have harshly criticized Russian adventurism in the Ukraine and Syria and embrace the strategic imperative of keeping Israel strong enough to deter any enemy.
They will become the President’s key foreign policy counselors, and whether he chooses to adopt their recommendations or not, their appointments and the substantial increases in military spending would suggest a more muscular approach to foreign affairs.
This cannot bode well for America’s continued participation in the JCPOA. This is not good news for the Pakistanis or the growing authoritarianism in Turkey or Putin’s countenance of Assad in Syria (as well as his participation in chemical weapons deployment and his gifting of facilities to the Iranians). And it is bad news for the Chinese and North Koreans. In the former’s case, their seizure of disputed territory will be challenged more directly and Trump is clearly prepared to challenge their government-subsidized version of capitalism and theft of intellectual property.
This pressure and their undeniable reliance on being able to have access to American markets will force them to exert an ever-increasing influence on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in order to preclude the imposition of any tariffs. Larry Kudlow, the President’s new economic adviser, is an ardent free-market advocate and opposed to tariffs in principle. He would certainly argue in favor of negotiating a new bilateral trade agreement that was better balanced.
Despite the bluster and hyperbole, the Chinese know what Trump wants and they know the counsel that Kudlow is likely providing. They want to minimize rather than provoke an American military presence in their sphere and the path to that goes through Pyongyang.
No matter how foul the taste might be to see Trump “fold” and sign this spending monstrosity, handing Schumer and Pelosi a momentary victory, the illegal immigration/sanctuary movement went unaddressed, and Trump secured funding for 14 new Naval vessels, 90 F-35’s, construction of nine different aircraft, drones, helicopters and tankers, Army upgrades to Strykers, Abrams tanks, and Bradley fighting vehicles. And a raise for the volunteers who serve in our military – their first in ten years.
Clearly, the ability to acquire this level of defense spending with the limited support of Democrats outweighed the political benefits of vetoing the bill which would have endeared him to fiscal conservatives and even “never-Trumpers”. But, in what is becoming typical Donald fashion, he chose to take the heat, excoriate the preposterous manner in which the 2000 page bill was delivered and voted upon, swore he would never sign anything like it again…..
And then signed it into law.