A little more than a week ago, President Donald Trump signed the first major bipartisan bill of his presidency, as he cut a deal with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to raise the debt ceiling, extend government funding, and provide disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

To be sure, passing disaster relief was the right thing for both parties to do; what was less necessary was caving entirely to the Democrats on government funding and the debt ceiling.

GOP leadership had been pushing for a longer-term extension, to see Congress through the upcoming mid-term elections on both fronts. Instead, Trump gave the Democrats exactly what they wanted: a three-month increase that sets up a massive battle at the end of the year.

Had Republicans been able to present a unified front, they may have been able to negotiate a longer-term spending solution. Unfortunately, many conservative lawmakers continued the hard-line tactics they had employed during 2011 and 2013 debates over the debt ceiling, when a Democrat still served in the White House. Rather than work with them to get a debt ceiling bill passed, Trump opted to work with Democrats instead, and the vast majority of Congress went along with his approach — including the entire Maine delegation.

Now, this was not entirely a terrible outcome. Lurching from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis is no way to govern responsibly in any country, and it’s especially damaging in the world’s largest economy. It was certainly vital to pass disaster relief aid, and it was good to see that done while avoiding another government shutdown or debt ceiling crisis. Trump was wise to back down from his threat to shut down the government if his proposed border wall with Mexico wasn’t fully funded.

This bill didn’t do anything to actually solve any of those impending fiscal crises — it just made them slightly less impending. It was the equivalent of getting an extension on your term paper instead of just getting it done on time. Once again, Congress has punted our fiscal problems down the road rather than working together in a substantive way to fix them. In the end, simply avoiding another crisis — while certainly commendable — isn’t really responsible governing, though it may seem like it.

The question for Trump and for Congress is whether anything will change over the next three months, or if they’re just going to ignore the problem until the last minute again. While Trump’s willingness to engage in bipartisanship is commendable, it may also pose greater challenges for him in the future. Most Republicans heeded leadership’s warnings that it was vital to support this round of funding and increase the debt ceiling so disaster relief aid could be passed. If that urgent pressure isn’t there in three months, many more conservatives may be willing to revolt against yet another debt ceiling increase.

Moreover, by revealing his willingness to negotiate with Democrats, Trump may have overplayed his hand.

If Democrats feel empowered on this bill, they may begin to push in other areas as well. This could include changes to the Affordable Care Act, immigration policy, and more. All Democrats have to do is pick a position that will split the GOP and tie it to an urgent, must-pass bill of some sort.

Working with Trump may come at a cost to Democrats, whether individually or collectively. Right now, much of the energy in the Democratic Party seems to be coming from left-wing activists who view it as their moral obligation to resist Trump at all turns. Democrats who abandon the “resistance” may find themselves the target of primaries, as Republicans who were willing to work with President Barack Obama often did. At this point, progressives are unlikely to be mollified by a few policy wins here and there — they’re pushing for outright victory on all fronts.

If the vote over government spending and disaster aid were the beginning of an end to the partisan rancor that has so divided Washington, that would be a relief. Instead, it seems to have been the classic D.C. bait-and-switch: pretend to oppose something in order to extract concessions. It’s hard to imagine that Democrats would really have voted down disaster relief funding in the middle of hurricane season — they just used the opportunity to get their way.

This time, that strategy allowed the Democrats to get a win. Hopefully over the next three months, the GOP learns from their mistake rather than repeating it.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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