Many Trump voters would feel program cuts in budget proposal
WASHINGTON (AP) — The closure of a regional airport could force residents of a small town in upper Michigan to drive eight hours to catch a flight. The elimination of funding to keep the Great Lakes clean could hurt business at a waterside Ohio boating club. Cuts to the nation’s flood insurance program could mean greater losses after a storm for homeowners on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
In his first budget blueprint since taking office, President Donald Trump held to his promise to build up the U.S. military while slashing domestic spending — even for programs that benefit the rural and lower-income Americans who voted for him last November.
“Some people might think it’s a betrayal,” said Eric Waara, the Republican city manager of the 7,000-person town of Houghton on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, who said he hoped the proposal was just a negotiating tactic. “I think that we all hope it’s the first small step until something better.”
Houghton sits more than 200 miles from a major highway and for many residents the Houghton County Memorial Airport is their connection to the outside world. Trump’s proposed elimination of the Transportation Department’s Essential Air Service program, or EAS, could force the airport to close or dramatically curtail service, leaving residents with a four-hour drive to Green Bay, Wisconsin, or eight hours to Chicago to catch a flight, Waara said. The administration said it would save $175 million a year.
Trump carried Houghton County with more than 54 percent of the vote as he became the first Republican to win Michigan since 1988. He got more than 50 percent of the vote in 86 of the 111 communities served by EAS, according to an Associated Press analysis of voting data.
The proposed $1.15 trillion budget distills much of Trump’s sweeping campaign rhetoric into a set of hard choices and cold priorities. Trump is calling on Congress to boost defense spending by $54 billion, a move popular with many Republicans. A wall along the border with Mexico, a core campaign promise, would receive $4 billion to start construction.
Trump’s campaign promises to gut ineffective programs and shrink a bloated bureaucracy translated into a plan that cuts environmental protections programs, community development funding, housing vouchers, scientific research, a commission to create economic opportunities in Appalachia and other programs.
Funding for popular social services like Meals on Wheels, which provides food to the elderly, and after-school programs for children, also are on the chopping block. The outline — the start of negotiations with Congress — leaves untouched Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid spending.
“Rural America stepped up to the plate behind the president in his last election, and we’re wholeheartedly behind him. We need to make sure that rural America at least gets its fair share,” said Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt, the Republican chairman of the House agriculture appropriations subcommittee. Aderholt, who represents one of the highest Trump voting congressional districts in the country, said he’s generally supportive of less federal spending but has concerns about cuts that would hurt several rural development programs.
“It doesn’t really reflect President Trump’s support for rural communities,” he said.
Trump administration officials said the proposal supports a desire to give states more flexibility and to protect taxpayers from seeing their dollars wasted.
“You’re only focusing on half of the equation, right?” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said when asked about the cuts. “You’re focusing on recipients of the money. We’re trying to focus on both the recipients of the money and the folks who give us the money in the first place.”
The budget proposal offered the promise of increased spending and services in some parts of Trump Country. The plan calls for a $500 million increase in spending to counter opioid epidemic, an acute problem in many rural communities. It proposes an additional $4.4 billion for veterans health care, including money to extend a program that allows eligible veterans to seek care from a private doctor outside the VA network.
Trump’s proposed military buildup could be an economic boon to military contractors and military communities. In the areas surrounding Fayetteville, North Carolina, what’s good for Fort Bragg is good for the community.
“We can’t help but look upon the budget favorably,” said Robert Van Geons, head of Fayetteville-Cumberland County Economic Development Corp. Two of the counties that make up the sprawling Fort Bragg delivered more than 60 percent of its votes for Trump.
Others saw economic worries in the proposal. The blueprint would cut almost all the $300 million in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, raising concern among some in the Ohio counties along Lake Erie.
The initiative was started to help limit invasive species such as the Asian carp, among other threats. It was meant to reduce dangers such as the outbreak of bacteria in 2014 that contaminated drinking water for nearly 500,000 people living around Toledo. Trump’s budget plan says that these programs should be the responsibility of state and local governments.
At Catawba Island Club, a lakeside club with hundreds of boat slips, a golf course and 100 year-round employees in Ohio’s Ottawa County, President Jim Stouffer said a rise in pollution could hurt his business.
“Our reason for being is our members being able to get out on the water,” Stouffer said.
Trump won the county by 57 percent of the vote on his way to carrying Ohio.
The budget plan would also cut $190 million for mapping flood hazards for the National Flood Insurance Program, as well as grants to fund projects that would reduce damage from natural disasters. Without accurate maps of floodplains and the engineering projects funded by these grants, the costs from flood losses and natural disasters could be even higher for homeowners, businesses and taxpayers, said Don Griffin, a vice president at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.
The three states with the most flood insurance policies, according to the government, are Florida, Texas and Louisiana, all of which supported Trump.
Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Joan Lowy contributed to this report.
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