By Steven Tavares.
When describing the current lay of the land in Washington D.C. Alameda County’s congressional lobbyists Thursday used the same word more than a dozens times—uncertainty.
From questions about the future of the Affordable Care Act, the federal budget, and impacts to local sanctuary cities, the county’s eyes and ear in the Beltway are waiting for the Trump administration and House Republicans to begin showing their cards.
Thursday’s hearing was organized by Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan to provide information not only to constituents, but local elected officials, for dealing with the new power structure in Washington. Following Trump’s victory last November and the realization health care in the county could be severely impacted, Chan has been seen by many in the county as clearly reenergized to protect it.
“The way we’re going to do this is really by involving more people and educating more people. Because I believe some of these things happened because people don’t know and this thing about ‘alternative facts,’” said Chan. “The more we talk to people about what’s going on the better off we’re going to be in terms of being able to counteract some of these issues that we are very worried about.”
On the ACA front, it definitely is the top priority among Republicans and will strongly impact the state and county, said Emily Bacque, director of policy for the lobbying firm, CJ Lake. But Congress is being stymied until a new Health and Human Services secretary is confirmed.
Rumors of the Trump administration pushing to fund a large infrastructure agenda appear now to be less of a priority, said Bacque, but added, “It’s still too early to know impacts.”
Cuts to the federal budget and their impacts on the county should be expected, said the lobbyist. Bacque noted the Trump transition team used a blueprint created by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, that advocated for significant cuts to the safety net and transportation.
The reality, though, is many conservatives in Congress are enamored by federal grants that aid their districts with hiring new police officers and grants for housing. “There could be some cuts requested, but I don’t think congress will go along with the magnitude of this blueprint we’re seeing from Heritage,” said Bacque. Similarly, high-price tag proposals such as building a southern wall and increases in defense might give belt-tightening conservatives pause, said Lynn Jacquez, principal for CJ Lake.
Perhaps no other issue is more cloaked in uncertainty than the real impacts of Trump’s executive orders on immigration signed Wednesday. They included orders for kickstarting the construction of a wall with Mexico and a threat to revoke federal funding to sanctuary cities.
“Executive orders are always up for interpretation. Some of the areas will be subject to a court-challenge,” said Jacquez, similar to Obama’s 2014 order granting temporary citizenship to certain undocumented immigrants. “There are lot of uncertainty and uncertain language in the order.” In addition, any order that requires money is going to be subject to congressional approval, said Jacquez, although authority for building a wall is included in legislation passed in 2006.
Jacquez, however, said the sanctuary city directive is troubling. “It’s very uncertain whether this is even legal and whether it could be done.” Federal agencies are also unsure, she said, and more guidance will likely be coming from the administration. When a school board member from the Tri Valley asked about the ramifications of declaring sanctuary city status, post-executive order, Jacquez said, “Doing so would mark you on the interactive map as a sanctuary entity. That would bring you into the group of 400.”
Despite the pervasive sense of dread among liberals in California, the county’s lobbyist offered some practical hope. When it comes to the likely scrapping of the ACA, they noted 60 votes in the U.S. Senate is needed for any replacement proposal, meaning support from eight Democrats will be required.
The change in administration also means the county and its cities must change their strategies for seeking grants. “Whenever a new administration takes over and new cabinet department members takes over you see a shift of language,” said Jacquez. Whether the buzzwords are, for instance, jobs and the economy, “We need to change our language to match their policies.”
County leaders must also determine how much specifically any potential federal budget cuts will mean to residents and pass the narrative to their East Bay congressmembers. “Provide the ammunition for them to help you,” said Bacque.