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When President Donald Trump dropped his proposed 2019 budget — which included trillions of dollars in cuts, including to social programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps — Sen. Mazie Hirono said it would “harm nearly everyone in Hawaii.”
In a press release, Hirono listed specific programs important to the state that could be slashed or eliminated.
Among them were cuts to essential air transportation services for Hana and Kalaupapa, the loss of a grant program that helped build Saddle Road on the Big Island, and the elimination of a Native Hawaiian education program that the senator says benefited tens of thousands of youths.
The Trump administration also proposed millions of dollars in cuts to other government endeavors designed to protect the islands, including those that aim to mitigate the dangers of volcanoes and tsunamis as well as prepare for the ramifications of ocean acidification.
But in reality, Trump’s spending plan is little more than an ideological playbook. Congress always writes its own budget.
And in this case, many believe the president’s proposal is already overshadowed by the recent approval of a budget deal that keeps the government open until March 23 and raises spending caps over the next two years by about $300 billion.
So now the first order of business is for lawmakers to figure out how to spend the additional cash.
“If people were honest about it, they would say it’s probably one of the best bipartisan bills that we’ve seen out of Congress in a long time,” Rep. Colleen Hanabusa told Civil Beat.
The agreement calls for the additional money to be split with more than half of it — about $165 billion — going toward the military in 2018 and 2019.
The rest is subject to legislative jockeying, although there are specific allocations for certain programs, such as $6 billion to combat opioid addiction, $2 billion for the National Institutes of Health and $4 billion for upgrades to Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics.
The deal also funds the Children’s Health Care Insurance Program for the next 10 years and provides $7 billion for community health centers over the next two years.
Hawaii has 14 community health centers across the islands, and there are an estimated 27,500 children here who rely on the program.
Hanabusa said that although the specifics have yet to be hammered out, she’s confident Hawaii will see a significant amount of increased defense spending.
Sen. Brian Schatz, who sits on the Appropriations Committee, says the recent deal means new money will be coming to Hawaii.
“We finally have a bipartisan budget agreement that allows us to increase spending for some of our key priorities,” Schatz said. “Hawaii obviously won’t get all of that money. But we will get our fair share and it will really help both our economy and community.”
He said lawmakers will begin divvying up the pot of discretionary, non-military money over the next six weeks. He said his focus will be on the VA, clean energy and health care.
Although he didn’t want to talk about specifics — at least while negotiations are ongoing — he has said he’d like to reduce the backlog in VA construction projects, which could include an outpatient clinic in Hilo and a replacement clinic in Kona.
One thing the agreement will not mean is more money for the Honolulu rail project.
“I will repeat this until we are done with this project,” Schatz said. “There is not a penny more or a penny less than what was originally committed in the full funding grant agreement.”
Honolulu received a $1.55 billion grant through the Federal Transit Administration to build a 20-mile commuter rail line from East Kapolei to Ala Moana Center.
But as the project ballooned in cost from about $5.2 billion to just over $9 billion, some have wondered if the federal government would be willing to pony up more cash. Schatz said that’s a non-starter.
“This is not to say that we won’t get more money for public transportation,” he said. “It’s just that in the case of rail the federal government has promised a fixed amount.”
The Hawaii delegation split on the budget deal with Schatz and Hanabusa both in support and Hirono and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard voting against the measure.