For the second time since his inauguration, President Donald Trump has drawn the ire of political leaders here on the Gulf Coast. Less than a year after an initial draft of the administration’s priority transportation projects excluded the much-needed Interstate 10 bridge in Mobile, another federal budget proposal has local officials on edge.
While Trump’s budget, released just over a week ago, calls for a sizable overall increase in military spending, the Mobile-based Littoral Combat Ship program is not one of the clear beneficiaries of the funding bump — a reality Port City politicos are already working to correct.
As originally released just over a week ago, the budget — titled “A new foundation for American greatness” — contains funding for only one additional LCS, the same number scheduled under former President Barack Obama’s last plan.
“Like President Trump, I want to see us rebuild our nation’s military, but this budget proposal shortchanges our national defense,” U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne said. “Specifically, the budget does not get us any closer to building up a 350 ship Navy fleet, and it lacks the full funding necessary to reverse our military readiness crisis.”
Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump emphasized not just his support for defense, but for creating jobs, saying he would be “the greatest jobs producer that God ever created.” Austal USA, the Mobile company that would benefit from an expanded LCS program, employs thousands in South Alabama.
Sen. Richard Shelby also had a lukewarm response to the proposal. “It is vital that we prioritize our nation’s defense, particularly with the evolving threats we face today,” Shelby said of Trump’s plan. “President Trump has discussed the importance of rebuilding our military and increasing our Navy’s fleet after eight years of insufficient funding. That should include our Navy’s critical warfighting ships. As a senior member on the Senate Appropriations Committee, I will work to ensure that our armed forces receive the resources and equipment necessary to promote and protect our nation’s interests.”
These subdued criticisms of Trump’s budget may be working. Last week, during a congressional hearing on military spending, Navy official Allison Stiller testified that despite the spending outlined by the budget, “The administration recognizes the criticality of our industrial base and supports funding a second LCS,” seemingly reversing the Trump position in one fell swoop.
After the hearing, Shelby released a statement saying he was “pleased to see that the Navy is working to address the industrial base concerns that I raised related to the FY18 budget and the LCS program.”
Shelby’s critique is likely only part of the reason a second LCS was added to the budget proposal, though.
“It was just an unorthodox process,” one inside source told CNN, speaking about the late addition of a second LCS to the budget. “Ultimately the decision to include two ships was made after the budget went to print so it had to be announced outside the normal budget document.”
According to CNN, those same inside sources said that the change was spearheaded by Rick Dearborn, a Trump adviser who was former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff for years.
An official from the Office of Management and Budget, which oversees the budget, put the change in a broader context, saying another LCS would be added because “the facts and need for a second came to us so late in the process.”
“Had we known about this need that far back we would have put it in the request,” the OMB official told CNN.
Despite the LCS program’s popularity here in Mobile, there is no shortage of critics of the last-minute change, including Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” McCain told CNN.
Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House’s equivalent committee, was even more critical of the last-minute move: “They pulled that ship out of their asses.”
The change is also an about-face for OMB, whose director, Mick Mulvaney, said of LCS ships: “The Navy doesn’t want them.”
Trump’s budget is only a guideline for spending and will eventually need approval from both the House and Senate before being signed into law.