In 2016, when he visited flood-ravaged neighborhoods in Baton Rouge, candidate Donald Trump promised he would not forget what he saw. “To the people of Louisiana: We are with you and we will always be with you,” he pledged at the time.
We hope that’s true, even amid worries this week that the ongoing government shutdown could affect funding for Louisiana flood control projects.
The president is considering a declaration of national emergency to override the deadlock in Congress over funding for a wall along the Mexican border, which candidate Trump repeatedly promised Mexico would pay for.
If the president declares such an emergency, the White House argues that he would have the powers he needs to divert funding from military accounts, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fund for the local flood-control projects, to pay for some amount of wall construction.
That raised concerns that the Comite River diversion canal, a project to limit flooding in Baton Rouge, as well as a long-sought levee in St. John Parish, could lose funding if the president instead uses the money to help pay for a border wall.
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves and U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy offered assurances this week that even if the president declares an emergency, such Louisiana projects wouldn’t be on the chopping block.
That’s encouraging news, though as with anything regarding White House policy these days, some confusion remains about how this issue will shake out. Regardless of whether Louisiana’s projects take a hit, diverting funds for projects in other states would still set a bad precedent.
Trump has asked Congress for more than $5 billion for the wall, which critics regard as a boondoggle. Security is important, but key parts of the border already have a wall.
Even with such dramatically invoked presidential powers, it’s not clear that Congress’ tight control over military construction spending can be overridden. Since these projects are highly valued by senators and representatives, the law severely restricts any changes in those appropriations. Such a raid on the funds by Trump would surely end up in court, and the president might well lose.
Republicans in Congress sharply criticized President Barack Obama for seeking to change immigration policies by executive order, without the approval of the GOP-controlled Congress. It would be the height of hypocrisy for President Trump to indulge a similar kind of executive overreach.
We deplore any diversion of disaster aid and flood control money that will prevent or mitigate future loss of life and property. Louisiana is particularly sensitive to the urgency of federal aid when the storm winds and waves come calling.
The last thing that Louisiana needs is uncertainty in disaster aid.