Earlier this year, President Donald Trump raised hackles when his plan to raid the Pentagon budget to help build more barriers along the nation’s southern border appeared to put Louisiana flood control money at risk.
Old habits die hard, as we’re reminded by the latest news that Trump now plans to divert federal money approved by Congress for hurricane assistance to detain more immigrants at the southern border instead. The president plans to transfer $155 million from the fund used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to respond to hurricanes and other natural disasters.
Luckily, Trump’s scheme to shake loose more money for a border barrier didn’t end up claiming funds for Louisiana’s Comite River Diversion Canal and the West Shore Lake Ponchartrain Hurricane Protection Project.
We hope the president’s new gimmick to plunder hurricane assistance money to buy more beds for immigrant detainees doesn’t compromise Louisiana’s readiness and recovery in future storms, either.
That concern has renewed urgency as Dorian churns toward Florida, underscoring what’s at stake when major weather events threaten this part of the world.
The prospect of any president rearranging budget priorities approved by Congress is a sobering one, since it undermines the balance that puts the federal power of the purse strings on Capitol Hill.
Diverting funds for other purposes after Congress has approved a budget is now allowed by law only in extraordinary circumstances. Predictably, Trump and his critics disagree about whether that threshold has been reached. We think vigilance about the abuse of executive power is a healthy thing in a free republic. We can remember a time not long ago when conservatives lambasted Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, for too often using his executive pen to advance goals he couldn’t get Congress to accept.
Such wariness about presidential overreach reflects an idea at the heart of the Constitution – namely, that national priorities should be expressed by a collaboration between the executive and legislative branches, not executive fiat.
Many Louisiana leaders of both parties have worked hard over many years to make funding for hurricane response and recovery a national priority, a goal given great gravity by this week’s anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
When such objectives can be sidelined by the caprices of a commander-in-chief, everyone suffers. That retreat from representative government, more than any hurricane, is an ill wind that blows no one any good.