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Here's why one Southern California Republican congressman took issue with part of Trump's budget

The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif. — Jeff Horseman The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif.

July 15--Like other Republican members of Congress, Ken Calvert of Corona, through his words and votes, largely supports President Donald Trump's agenda.

But in recent weeks, Calvert, the Inland Empire's longest-serving congressman and chairman of California's GOP House delegation, objected to at least two Trump administration proposals for the fiscal 2018 federal budget, which Congress is currently working on.

Calvert opposed a planned funding cut for a West Coast earthquake early warning system and aproposal to end a waiver that allows California to impose strict regulations on auto emissions. The congressman's view on these issues is important because he chairs the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees spending by the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of the Interior.

As such, he holds considerable sway over how the EPA and Interior Department do their jobs. And with the GOP controlling Congress, Calvert can do more to change the budget than his Democratic counterparts.

Calvert's panel July 11 approved a draft spending plan. The full House Appropriations Committee will take up the bill Tuesday, July 18.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Calvert, a congressman since the mid-1990s, said he's "never agreed with any president's budget proposal 100 percent." He praised Trump's budget for strengthening the military and bolstering border security.

The appropriations bill approved by Calvert's subcommittee allocates $31.4 billion for interior and environmental spending, down $824 million from the current fiscal year but $4.3 billion above the president's request. The EPA's budget would be cut by $528 million.

Penny Newman, executive director of the Jurupa Valley-based Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, gave credit to Calvert for protecting the waiver. But she said the overall budget cuts to environmental programs are devastating.

"There doesn't seem to be an overriding goal of what they want to do other than get rid of things," Newman said.

'A tough job'

Trump's budget called for substantial cuts in a number of non-military areas. But his proposal to slash EPA funding encountered resistance from members of both parties.

"You have a tough job here today," Calvert told EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, according to a June 15 story in The Washington Post.

"This budget proposes to significantly reduce or terminate programs that are vitally important to each member of this subcommittee ... This is perhaps not how you personally would craft EPA's budget, but it's a budget you have to defend here today."

Right now, the fiscal 2018 budget includes $10.2 million for the earthquake system, the same amount as before. The White House sought to cut funding for the program, which is being developed by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill and in Sacramento, who represent constituents in a California overdue for a major earthquake, objected to the cut. Consistent funding is essential if the system is to go online on a limited basis by the end of 2018, according to published reports.

"I don't know why they did that, quite frankly," Calvert said of the proposed cut. "Just a few seconds' warning can save a lot of lives. That's why it was something I was going to make sure (got funded)."

Pruitt also talked about abolishing a decades-old federal Clean Air Act waiver that lets California impose tighter controls on vehicle emissions. Southern California air quality is among the nation's worst and fossil fuel emissions from vehicles contribute to climate change.

Calvert said he spoke with Pruitt about keeping the waiver.

"It has made a real difference when it comes to California air quality," Calvert said. "I don't see that as a partisan issue."

Calvert described his discussions with Trump administration officials regarding his concerns about the budget as "respectful." He added he worked with the administration to reduce the size of the EPA workforce.

"Scott Pruitt and I get along well," he said. "There's things I did for him. There's things he did for me."

Another part of the bill continues a ban against the euthanasia or sale for slaughter of wild horses and burros that roam on public lands. But wild horse advocates worry an amendment could be offered that would open the door for the animals to be killed.

'Local needs first'

The waiver and earthquake system aside, Calvert has been a consistent supporter of the Republican president's policies. He's voted in line with Trump's position 100 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight, a website founded by statistician and author Nate Silver that provides political analysis.

Earlier this year, Calvert, a self-described conservative, voted in favor of the House bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. And he's voiced support for Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration, the president's ban on travel to the U.S. by citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries and Trump's pick of Neil Gorsuch to serve on the Supreme Court.

Unlike other Southern California House Republicans in a state where Trump is largely unpopular, Calvert, who represents a large swath of western Riverside County, isn't seen as vulnerable when he runs for re-election in 2018.

Democrat Julia Peacock, one of at least two 2018 challengers to Calvert, said the $10 million for the earthquake system doesn't go far enough. Trump's budget, she said, guts social safety-net programs and spends on the military in a way that doesn't protect soldiers or give them the equipment they need.

Calvert supported eliminating pollution safeguards for streams and in favor of hunting wildlife, Peacock added. Protecting the air-quality waiver and earthquake early warning funding "doesn't give him a pass," she said.

Matt Woody, an independent running against Calvert, said Trump's proposed budget had clearly unrealistic spending cuts.

"(Calvert) should get some credit for not completely gutting these provisions," Woody said. "But it also seems clear, from what I've found, that he was more or less taking direction from (Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J.) ... to me, this doesn't look like a pure open, democratic process."

Jack Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College, said Calvert's opposition to parts of the Trump budget probably won't hurt the congressman.

"A House member has to serve local needs first," Pitney said. "In this case, Trump probably would not mind since he is almost certainly unaware of this proposal in the first place. He neither knows nor cares about legislative details."


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