Hurricane Donald Trump finally did some good
Hurricanes in Houston, and in the White House, have turned the normally sleepy summer into a blockbuster news season.
It appears that Mother Nature’s punishing monster storms have made U.S. President Donald Trump a Democrat again and helped remove the gridlock in Congress. They could also bring economic benefits, and not just south of the border.
Business-wise, the rebuild required in Houston could cost US$190 billion, an amount greater than the Canadian federal budget. If Florida is battered by an even bigger hurricane, Trump’s much-touted trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, which has been stillborn in Congress thus far, could receive a dramatic and unexpected kick off.
The weather will bring about a construction, retail, and building materials boom. Stocks have already edged higher. And oil companies — and oil countries like Canada — will benefit by getting US$54 a barrel for some time. (Houston’s refinery capacity was severely damaged and represents 20 per cent of U.S. output.)
By far the oddest knock-on effect is that the storms averted another dangerous debt-ceiling cliffhanger on Oct. 3. That is because Trump joined with Democrats to approve federal spending on relief efforts for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, in return for raising the debt limit for six months.
Trump’s treasury secretary explained why this connection is critical. The massive storm costs cannot be borne without allocation and allocation cannot happen without resolving the debt-limit issue, which the Republicans have refused to do.
“Without raising the debt limit, I’m not comfortable that we will get the money that we need this month to Texas to rebuild,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said this week. “That’s our priority. We need to help the people in Texas (then Florida), and we need to get that done.”
Worse than being unable to come up with emergency relief, Congress must approve an increase of the debt limit or the country simply cannot borrow. In the past, this deadline has resulted in partisan brinkmanship, forcing the shutdown of large portions of the federal government, and military, many times for weeks, damaging the economy and degrading the national credit rating.
What’s politically interesting is that Trump has sided with the Democrats, doing an end run around hardline Republicans who planned to withhold debt ceiling support to dramatically slash expenditures.
This manoeuvre is fiscally expedient but also politically profound.
Trump’s deal with Democrats has frustrated the best-laid plans of House Republican leader Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. It was, frankly, a shockingly audacious move.
But Trump is a disruptor and now he’s doing the right thing, for a change. In office, he’s realized that the party he hijacked through a hostile takeover can’t get anything approved even with a double majority.
He simply wants Congress to deal expeditiously with issues, for a change.
Trump has realized that he must be flexible and cross the aisle to get things done in Washington. He’s reportedly lost faith with the Republicans and that may be because his wackiest buddies in the White House have been jettisoned, or are under investigation.
Psychologically, the shift followed the ascension of a disciplined, rational chief of staff.
Ideally — and he’s very volatile — he might be able to straddle the divide that’s ruining the U.S. government by organizing bipartisan coalitions on a policy by policy basis. I also wouldn’t count out a shift on other issues toward the Democratic side.
For instance, he took a Democratic Senator to North Dakota with him this week and openly supported her re-election in that state next year. “She’s a good woman,” he said repeatedly on the platform.
The Republicans are now in chaos, but this isn’t surprising and it isn’t bad. Moderate Republicans may in future be able to choose joining a coalition with moderate Democrats on an issue rather than being held hostage by the most extreme alt-right Republicans in their caucus.
To add insult to injury of the Republicans this week, Trump also hinted that he will support the “dreamers” bill — which would allow 800,000 illegal immigrants brought as children by the parents to remain. This is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which GOP hard-liners regard as illegal amnesty but was passed by President Obama as a temporary Band Aid until reforms could be passed. They never were.
“Chuck and Nancy want to see something happen (re DACA) — and so do I,” Trump said.
The familiarity of that statement, after months of nasty name-calling, was as shocking as was the hint that he may retreat from hardline immigration rhetoric.
Of course, Trump is a master of deception compounded by more deception. So, none of his statements, or stances, can be taken to the bank.
He’s nothing if not unpredictable. But perhaps when all is said and done, he won’t be as destructive as the other unpredictable storms buffeting the U.S.
First published National Post September 9, 2017