Delegation Challenges Trump Agenda, With Focus On Military Spending

Mar 1, 2017

All three members of Vermont's Congressional delegation are in sharp disagreement with most of the priorities that President Trump outlined in his address to Congress on Tuesday night.

Sen. Patrick Leahy says that it's very important for Americans to realize that Trump is pursuing a radical agenda even though his tone during the address was quite subdued.

"If you're going to be stopping programs that might make us safer abroad, if you're going to be stopping programs that might improve education in the United States, well then the reality is a lot worse than the rhetoric," said Leahy.

Congressman Peter Welch says he's disappointed that the President decided to stick with many of his most controversial proposals. Welch says he'll continue to speak out against many of these policies.

“There's no backing down on things that I think will intensify income inequality, an immigration plan that still continues to focus on what is in effect a religious ban on Muslims, and really not an outreach to find some common ground on policies,” said Welch. “So in that sense, I thought it was Trump being Trump."

" If you're going to be stopping programs that might make us safer abroad, if you're going to be stopping programs that might improve education in the United States, well then the reality is a lot worse than the rhetoric." — Sen. Patrick Leahy

Sen. Bernie Sanders says he's appalled at Trump's plan to dramatically increase military spending by making corresponding cuts in domestic programs.

"So it's a huge and complicated budget, and to throw another $80 billion at them over the next year and half and to pay for that by cutting back on programs for children, for the elderly, and for people in need is absolutely to my mind unacceptable,” said Sanders.

Leahy is the lead Democrat on the Senate Appropriations committee. He also strongly disagrees with the plan to boost military spending.

"Simply spending more money and buying more weapons systems, including some that are outdated, doesn't make us stronger,” said Leahy.

"To throw another $80 billion at [the military] over the next year and half and to pay for that by cutting back on programs for children, for the elderly, and for people in need is absolutely to my mind unacceptable." — Sen. Bernie Sanders

Meanwhile, Rep. Welch is concerned that individual states will have to pick up the burden of paying for some critical domestic programs if Trump's military spending plan is adopted.

"If there's a big cut back in, let's say fuel assistance, or a big cut on college aid, the Vermont Legislature and others are going to have to say, 'Can we fill the gap?' Which would obviously be significant additional burdens on our taxpayers, or are we just going to have to go without?" said Welch. 

Sanders also challenged the president's assertion that people in this country who are here without proper documentation are responsible for a higher rate of violent crime than U.S. residents. Sanders says national statistics clearly show that this is not true.

"I think this effort to talk about crime being committed by undocumented immigrants is just another way to divide us up, to foster hatred in this case against undocumented people," Sanders says.

The delegation hopes to challenge Trump in several ways. Leahy is optimistic that a bi-partisan coalition will emerge to oppose some of Trump's budget policies.

"We'll put together Republican and Democratic coalitions on that, and I think you're going to see a lot of priorities that would appeal to a state like ours," said Leahy.

Meanwhile, Sanders says he'll continue to work to reform the operations of the national Democratic Party to offer an alternative to many of Trump's policies.

"To make it a grassroots party,” said Sanders. “To make it work from the bottom on up rather than the top down, how we make it into a party that is prepared to stand up to the oligarchic forces in this country which have so much economic and political power."

Sanders says he plans to meet with newly elected DNC chairman Tom Perez on Thursday to outline short and long term goals for the party.