Antagonists Days Ago, McConnell and Schumer Find Common Cause

Senators Chuck Schumer, left, the Democratic leader, and Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, on Wednesday on their way to the Senate floor. The brief shutdown in January was a reminder of the risks of closing the government.

WASHINGTON — Two weeks ago, the Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer could barely look at each other on the floor as Congress careened into a government shutdown. Their relationship was considered so badly frayed that a bipartisan group of lawmakers intervened to help them save face and temporarily end the impasse.

Yet on Wednesday, the two happily linked arms and delivered a major budget deal containing eye-popping spending increases and clear political benefits for both sides as lawmakers head into a crucial midterm election season.

It just shows how tens of billions of appropriately scattered dollars can soothe any hard feelings.

The agreement, the subject of intense private negotiations between Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, and Mr. Schumer, Democrat of New York, had been percolating for days. They consulted with Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, but the White House, by design, did not play a big role in the talks.

Mr. Schumer gleefully pointed out that fact on the floor by noting that the deal “was completed without a great deal of help from the White House.”

The talks got serious immediately after the shutdown when Mr. McConnell approached Mr. Schumer and asked how they should proceed on the spending divide. They ended Tuesday in Mr. McConnell’s office with Mr. Schumer inviting Mr. McConnell, a die-hard University of Louisville basketball fan, to New York to attend a future Louisville game against Syracuse University. (By earlier arrangement, Mr. Schumer will speak Monday at the university’s McConnell Center.)

Both sides were heavily invested in trying to produce a result that would get them out of the stubborn cycle of budget dysfunction and, just as important, get them through the November elections without another politically damaging shutdown or threat to default on the federal debt.

The brief January disruption of the government had been more than enough to remind both sides of the risks of closing the government even to protect a group as sympathetic as undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children. The plight of those immigrants was walled off from the spending agreement and will now be the subject of a coming Senate floor debate, with the outcome highly uncertain.

The final two-year deal that must be approved by the House and Senate delivered tangible benefits to both sides while easing tight spending restrictions instituted when Republicans were insisting on austerity for the Obama administration. Aides said the agreement was $113 billion beyond President Trump’s budget proposal for this fiscal year.

Defense hawks received $165 billion more for the Pentagon, which they said had been hamstrung not only by a shortage of money, but by the stop-and-start process that had made forecasting and planning impossible.

Democrats won a bonanza of $131 billion in funding for many of their top domestic priorities, including public works, children’s and veteran’s health programs, opioid abuse prevention, an infusion of money for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, help with college costs and a special committee to examine pension problems.

“This bill represents a significant bipartisan step forward,” Mr. McConnell said.

Aides to the two Senate leaders say accounts of tension between them are overblown, particularly compared with the deep estrangement that existed between Mr. McConnell and Harry Reid, the former Democratic leader from Nevada. When Mr. Schumer assumed power after the 2016 elections, he told Mr. McConnell he wanted a better, more candid relationship and the two, while attacking each other on the floor, have managed to cooperate behind the scenes.

But the recent shutdown tested their ability to work together, and Mr. McConnell still remembers a couple of Schumer slights — a 2008 campaign ad against him that the Republican leader considered unfair, as well as Mr. Schumer’s decision last year to vote against Mr. McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, for secretary of transportation.

Mr. Schumer acknowledged that relations had been antagonistic given the go-it-alone Republican push on health care and the tax law and differences on immigration.

“We had serious disagreements, but instead of just going to our separate corners, we came together,” Mr. Schumer said. For his part, Mr. McConnell thanked his counterpart for the “productive discussions that generated this proposal.”

In addition to the spending increases, Democrats said that Mr. McConnell’s decision to allow an open immigration debate without putting his thumb on the scale for a particular proposal at the start also helped seal the deal with Mr. Schumer.

After the debilitating partisanship of recent months, the breakthrough was a relief to some lawmakers who credited the two men with coming to a resolution.

“Hats off to Senators McConnell and Schumer for working toward this agreement,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina.

Others weren’t so pleased by the new comity. Some conservatives in the House and Senate will no doubt oppose it, and Democrats unhappy that immigration policy was left out — including Ms. Pelosi, who occupied the House floor for hours Wednesday — were also balking at the deal. But it was drawing broad support from other factions, including Republicans on the Armed Services Committees in the House and Senate, Mr. Ryan, the Pentagon and the White House.

The agreement was reminiscent of an initial spending compromise struck in the spring when lawmakers cut a deal among themselves and for the most part cut the White House out of the process.

Given the breadth of the agreement, it would essentially clear the decks for Congress this year once underlying spending bills are put forward. The midterm implications were obvious as Mr. Schumer, in outlining the proposal on the floor, credited multiple Democratic senators facing potentially tough re-elections for their efforts while Mr. McConnell promoted the benefits for the military and national security.

The two parties will still fight it out in midterm elections that will determine control of Congress as well as the future ability of the Trump administration to enact its agenda. But passage of the budget agreement means Republicans and Democrats could have the opportunity to square off over substantive differences rather than just defending themselves against charges of Washington dysfunction underscored by regular threats of government shutdowns.

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