WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Thursday embraced a suggestion from the Senate’s top Democrat to end congressional battles over the U.S. debt ceiling, a day after he stunned fellow Republicans by striking a major budget deal with the opposition party.
Testing his new opening with Democrats, Trump also reached out on another tricky issue, the fate of 800,000 so-called Dreamers, young adults brought illegally to the country as children. He even honored a request by Nancy Pelosi, the top House of Representatives Democrat, to publicly reassure the Dreamers they do not face imminent deportation.
The Senate voted 80-17 to approve the deal Trump reached with Democrats on Wednesday, which would raise the federal debt limit and fund the government through Dec. 8. The legislation included $15.25 billion in aid for areas affected by Hurricane Harvey and other natural disasters.
The bill now goes to the House for final congressional approval, where it faces opposition from conservatives who traditionally favor raising the ceiling while also cutting spending.
Representative Bill Flores, a Republican helping round up votes for the deal, said his count of party members intending to vote yes on the legislation “didn’t look very good.”
Trump voiced support on Thursday for the idea of eliminating the statutory cap on the U.S. Treasury Department’s authority to borrow.
“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,” he added.
Legislation that would end the need for Congress to regularly authorize debt ceiling increases came up during a White House meeting Trump had on Wednesday with Pelosi, top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, people familiar with the meeting said.
Schumer proposed eliminating the limit, and Trump and Vice President Mike Pence said they liked the idea, one source said. Schumer said the parties should canvass rank-and-file lawmakers to gauge support for getting rid of the ceiling ahead of the next deadline to raise it, in December, the source said.
The meeting’s participants did not say whether they would seek to repeal the cap or revert to a practice of automatic increases tied to Congress approving its annual budget, the sources said.
Republican Ryan said he opposed any effort to do away with lawmakers’ role in approving debt limit increases, citing the powers given to Congress under the U.S. Constitution.
The United States spends more than it raises through taxes and other revenue, and issues debt to make up the difference. The limit on how much it can borrow is the debt ceiling.
Congress must regularly vote to raise the cap, which frequently sparks nasty political fights that spook financial markets over the prospect of an unprecedented U.S. default.
Representative Barry Loudermilk, a member of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said the proposal to scrap the debt ceiling was worth exploring.
“This is something that just comes up over and over again and we’ve never done anything to fix it,” he said, adding lawmakers should have a conversation about finding a permanent fix that also leads to cutting deficit spending, such as a constitutional amendment to balance the budget.
But Republican Representative Joe Barton, who belongs to the party’s right-wing Freedom Caucus, said scrapping the debt ceiling was wrong and he hoped Trump “reconsiders his position.”
Schumer said on Thursday he hoped the meeting was “a ray of hope for both parties coming together on the big issues.”
Pelosi said Trump also made clear he wanted Congress to act on the Dreamers issue. U.S. lawmakers for years have failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
On Tuesday, Trump rescinded a program created by his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, that protected the immigrants from deportation and provided them work permits. Trump gave Congress six months to work on an alternative by delaying implementation until March.
Democrats want a bill addressing the Dreamers without other issues attached, but Pelosi did not rule out including border security measures that Trump and Ryan want.
Pelosi said “we have a responsibility to secure our borders,” but that does not include Trump’s planned wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that many Democrats oppose.
“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 he was not planning a six-month-long 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!”
Reporting by Richard Cowan and Amanda Becker; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, David Shepardson, Susan Cornwell and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Will Dunham and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Frances Kerry and Peter Cooney