Louisiana’s delegation in Congress has worked very hard to push funding for significant new flood control projects through the legislative process and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
We hope our members are correct that — this time — the president is not going to use his “declaration of emergency” to raid the Corps projects that mean so much to us. Trump wants to use the declaration to take billions of tax dollars in other areas of the federal budget for his border wall with Mexico, detouring Congress. The declaration is headed to legal challenges in the courts. As a candidate, Trump repeatedly promised that Mexico, not U.S. taxpayers, would pay for the wall.
Despite assurances from Louisiana’s Republican members of Congress that Trump doesn’t plan to tap money allocated for flood control in the state to build the wall, we worry about next time. This is a bad precedent set by Trump, with the acquiescence of our GOP members of Congress, who might find that one day Louisiana projects are not as protected by the legislative process as they have been in the past.
“You’ll notice what’s not on that list is taking away any of Puerto Rico's or Texas’ disaster relief money,” acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said in a Friday morning call with reporters. “That is not part of our plan.”
We’re glad to hear it, this time. That’s because the Corps of Engineers fund set aside for disaster relief projects in Texas and Puerto Rico — both slammed by deadly hurricanes in 2017 — also has about $1.4 billion for work in Louisiana, including the dollars to complete the long-sought Comite River Diversion Canal and the West Shore Lake Pontchartrain Hurricane Protection Project.
The first project will help protect the greater Baton Rouge area, ravaged by deadly flooding in 2016. The latter will help protect suburban New Orleans neighborhoods hit hard by Hurricane Isaac in 2012.
This time the money for local priorities seems safe, but what about next time? The GOP members are most of Louisiana’s delegation, excepting U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans. What happens when a Democratic president confronts a political problem akin to that Trump faces with the new Democratic House?
Will a “national emergency” then circumvent the legislative process the way Trump is trying to do now? And how will Louisiana’s projects fare the next time?
It is a dramatically bad precedent, for an expensive “wall” project that polls suggest is not dreadfully popular with the public and unjustified by the problem — not a crisis — of illegal immigration on the southwestern border.
We don’t know if the president’s plans will work out as he believes. For one thing, Congress is rightly jealous of its power of the purse, and no more so than when politically popular construction projects are involved. Also, steering funds away from their intended purpose may have unintended consequences later, and that’s what the legislative process is supposed to sort out.
If Louisiana’s Republican lawmakers don’t speak out now about this executive overreach, they might find themselves out of luck the next time a commander-in-chief decides to subvert the will of Congress with the stroke of a pen.
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