- Special Projects
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump told the nation’s governors, including Hawaii’s David Ige, about plans to boost defense spending substantially and give states more authority over health care and education decisions.
In a speech to the governors at the White House on Monday, Trump said his proposed federal budget, which he intends to submit to Congress in a month, will call for an “historic increase in defense spending to rebuild the depleted military of the United States of America.”
He said the U.S. cannot win wars if soldiers and sailors do not have the “tools they need.” He said he would cut spending in other areas to raise the money for the defense buildup.
Trump also said that it will be possible to save money by negotiating more aggressively with defense suppliers to reduce inflated costs. He said he had already engaged in these kinds of deliberations.
“On one plane, on a small order of a plane, I saved $725 million,” he told the governors.
Later Monday, Ige joined a bipartisan group of governors at a press conference to discuss how they see Trump’s plans affecting their states.
The spending plan could have a mixed impact on Hawaii. The state traditionally benefits from hikes in defense spending, but residents are worried about the prospect of cuts in federal spending on education and health care.
The governors, gathered in the nation’s capital for the winter meeting of the National Governors Association, met with the president in a series of events at the White House over the past three days, including Monday’s speech. They have peppered him with questions about the administration’s plans on a number of topics, including the budget, immigration and health care.
“The actions taken in Washington affect us greatly because we have to implement them,” said Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, who is serving as president of the National Governors Association, during a press conference on Capitol Hill that Ige also attended.
“What decisions are made here in Washington end up on our desks,” said Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada, the organization’s vice chair, appearing at the press conference with McAuliffe, Ige, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress are deliberating over how best to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s signature accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act. Many Republicans ran for office on the specific pledge of repealing Obamacare.
But now they are finding it difficult to figure out how to replace it. Many have been mobbed by constituents worried about the real-world implications of simply eliminating the ACA, such as losing their insurance, coverage for a pre-existing condition or protection for young adult children.
Ige expressed cautious optimism that Hawaii residents would not be adversely affected by the health care revisions, or at least that the impact would be less severe than in some other parts of the country.
The governors are asking the Trump administration to give the states greater power to decide how best to use federal health care money.
Trump told them he intended to shift more control of health care policy to governors rather than federal administrators. He said that “local control” would allow governors to determine how best to meet their own states’ needs.
The mechanism by which that would be done is uncertain, with a variety of plans reportedly under consideration, including providing money to states on a per-capita basis or as a block grant.
Governors at the press conference said they told the president with a unified voice that they did not want to see any Americans lose health-care coverage.
They said that Trump assured them that decisions in this area would be made in partnership with the governors.
In an interview with Civil Beat on Sunday, Ige expressed cautious optimism that Hawaii residents would not be adversely affected by the health care revisions or at least that the impact would be less severe than in some other parts of the country. More than 90 percent of Hawaii’s population had health insurance even before the ACA was passed.
Sandoval said that although some Republicans have spoken strongly about their desire to cut back on the expansion of Medicaid that was part of the ACA, he has been told in private conversations with them that they “want to make sure that people continue to maintain coverage.”
They also want to make sure “no states are penalized,” because although many implemented some version of the ACA, others, such as Utah, did not, Sandoval told reporters.
Herbert, the Utah governor, also said the governors intend to make the point forcefully to the administration and Congress that states need to have a voice in how the health care plan overhaul is implemented.
McAuliffe, a strong advocate for immigrants, told reporters that he pressed Trump for answers on how the administration plans to handle immigration.
McAuliffe said he received specific assurances that the federal government would only deport immigrants who are here “illegally and who were involved in a criminal enterprise.”
He said he was told “emphatically,” by John Kelly, secretary of homeland security, that children who were brought to the U.S. from abroad by their parents would not be deported.
Ige did not speak at the news conference but he indicated he had become part of the inner circle of bipartisan deliberations over how to negotiate with the Trump administration.