March 22–WASHINGTON — As expected, the Republican-led U.S. House easily approved a spending plan Thursday for the remainder of this fiscal year that rejects President Donald Trump’s proposal last year to make deep cuts to the federal budget that included eliminating funding for the Great Lakes and terminating community block grants worth more than $100 million a year to Michigan municipalities.
The spending plan now goes to the Senate, which is expected to vote on Friday in advance of a midnight deadline to fund the government. Even if that vote stalls, there appears to be enough bipartisan support to pass it eventually, though a short-term deal may be needed to get past procedural hurdles that could string out a final vote for a day or so.
Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said Trump would sign the $1.3-trillion spending plan — which restores many proposed cuts and increases defense spending by $80 billion and domestic social spending by $63 billion — when it passes even though it doesn’t include the cuts he had wanted.
“There was no chance of everything that we wanted passing,” Mulvaney said. “We had to give away a lot of stuff we didn’t want to give away (in order to get a budget deal).”
That included the possible elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program and other funds important to Michiganders which, in several cases, were not only saved, but saw their funding increased.
The House voted 256-167 to approve the spending plan, with 11 of Michigan’s current 13 members of Congress — including seven Republicans and four Democrats — voting for it and only U.S. Reps. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, and Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet, voting against. The conservative Club for Growth had urged its defeat, saying it “funds Democrat priorities and throws American taxpayers under the bus” but those pleas fell on deaf ears.
Mulvaney and others argued that the additional funding for the military and other priorities was worth it.
The agreement fully funds the $300-million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a bipartisan program that pays for wetlands protection and pollution control projects, as well as other items, and which had been targeted in March of last year for elimination by the Trump administration in this budget for the spending year that ends Sept. 30.
It had been clear for some time that the Republican-led Congress would not accept such a cut to a program favored by politicians of both parties in the Upper Midwest but that didn’t stop the Trump administration from proposing to slash it again in next year’s plan to just $30 million.
“I have been working hard to make sure today’s legislation benefits the priorities of Michigan residents,” said U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, who is on the House Appropriations Committee that produced the so-called omnibus bill to fund government for the remainder of the fiscal year. “Today’s bipartisan agreement delivers for our state vital funding to protect the Great Lakes.”
The overall deal balances additional defense spending and about $1.5 billion for physical barriers along the southwest border along with some $20 billion toward infrastructure and $2.3 billion for school safety measures in the wake of last month’s school shooting in Florida that left 17 students and adults dead. Those measures include more money for mental health services, training, violence prevention and security upgrades, as well as efforts to improve the criminal background check system.
For Michiganders, the spending plan will also protect programs important to them from being slashed for now.
For instance, the budget deal requires the Army Corps of Engineers to “make every effort” to submit a report on the feasibility of moving ahead with work to block the spread of invasive Asian carp toward Lake Michigan at a key chokepoint in Illinois by February 2019 and to “identify and evaluate” whether more steps are needed to reduce the risk of vessels inadvertently sweeping the fish through the Brandon Road Lock and Dam in Joliet.
“This budget bill includes important priorities for Michigan,” said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. “It restores full funding for the Great Lakes and expedites action to combat Asian carp.”
Trump’s spending proposal of a year ago also proposed slashing the Education Department — now overseen by Betsy DeVos, a former Michigan school choice advocate — by about $9 billion while putting more than $1 billion in school choice programs. It also called for eliminating the popular Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which helps pay for homeless shelters and transportation for seniors as well as defraying costs for housing projects in Detroit and dozens of other Michigan counties, cities and townships.
But congressional appropriators rejected those proposals. The Education Department budget is to be increased by $2.6 billion with only $400 million being set aside to help with charter schools. And instead of eliminating Community Development Block Grants, the proposal funds them at $3.3 billion, $300 million above the fiscal year 2017 level.
A news release put out by the Republican-led Appropriations Committee went so far as to praise the CDBG grants, saying they “provide critical infrastructure dollars to states and local communities to address economic development and housing needs.”
Trump’s initial proposal also moved to eliminate the popular Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program, which in the past has helped pay for projects including the QLINE streetcar in Detroit. It also moved to get rid of funding for the Essential Air Service grants, which help provide air service to smaller communities in Michigan such as Escanaba, Houghton and Sault Ste. Marie.
But the new plan funds Essential Air Services and triples TIGER funding to $1.5 billion, with a rule that at least 30% of that amount go to rural communities.
Other items in the proposal include a $610 million increase in funding for Head Start, the program for child nutrition and development, and a nearly $800-million increase in funding for the Army Corps of Engineers, which could potentially help in the state’s efforts to get a plan to build a new navigation lock at Sault Ste. Marie. The lock is needed to transport the largest carriers on the Great Lakes and further combat the spread of Asian carp.
It also provides for $3.6 billion, an addition of $250 million, in funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) — which helped more than 440,000 Michiganders pay home energy bills last year — after Trump proposed getting rid of it altogether last year.
Coastal and marine management grants at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including Sea Grant — which helps pay for a joint program between the University of Michigan and Michigan State University that has provided Great Lakes research and advocacy for nearly half a century — will also will see increases rather than being eliminated as originally proposed.
Meanwhile, in the wake of last month’s shooting in Parkland, Fla., the spending plan looks to provide communities with about $226 million to help hire 1,100 new police officers and $75 million for grants to states to improve the quality of criminal and mental health records processed into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is used to monitor prospective firearm purchasers.
Stabenow, as well as U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, also noted that the spending bill includes $10 million to study the impact of chemicals known as polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, formerly used at industrial, tanning or manufacturing sites, including those in Michigan, that have leached into soil and water.
At least 28 contaminated sites have been located in Michigan. The substance has been linked with an increased risk of some cancers, impaired fetal development and loss of fertility.
The three said the legislation also increases funding to address chemical contamination at active and decommissioned military bases such as the closed Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda and doubles the size of emergency grants available to rural communities affected by drinking water contamination from $500,000 to $1 million.
Contact Todd Spangler: 703-854-8947 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @tsspangler.