NEW LONDON — U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt on Saturday repeated his misgivings about the national emergency declared by President Donald Trump.
During a visit to the Ralls County Electric Cooperative to talk about expanding rural access to broadband service, Blunt said he wants to work with Trump on border security but questions whether the emergency declaration is the best course.
The Senate will vote soon on a resolution, passed in 245-182 Tuesday in the Democratic-controlled U.S. House, terminating the emergency. U.S. Reps. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, who represents most of Audrain along with Boone, Randolph, Howard, Cooper and Moniteau counties in central Missouri, and Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, who represents Marion and Ralls counties and the remainder of Audrain County, both voted against the resolution.
If four Republicans join Democrats in the Senate and vote for the resolution, it will be sent to Trump, who has promised to veto it.
Blunt first expressed reservations in an appearance last Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation.
"No president up until now has ever gone to Congress and asked for the Congress to do something, and then when the Congress didn't do it, the president decided, 'Well, um, I'm not going to do this the traditional, constitutional way. I'm going to do it some other way,'" Blunt said Saturday.
The president already had $1.3 billion appropriated to border wall improvements more than a year ago, Blunt said. The money from that appropriation became available to use last month, he added.
"So it takes a long time to get the contracts out to do the things that need to be done," he said.
Blunt said he supports the border wall, but he doesn’t want the office of the president to be able to bypass Congress through executive authority.
"We're still trying to work with the president to encourage him to look at the other options available to him, the transfer authority that's available,” Blunt said. “The money that was just made available in the appropriations bill."
Congressional pressure has worked before to persuade a president that he had misused emergency powers, Blunt noted.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush suspended the Davis-Bacon Act, which sets the wages on construction contracts using federal funds, for areas in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Labor groups and a bipartisan group of lawmakers balked and a resolution was filed in Congress to terminate the emergency. Bush ended up rescinding the declaration.
"So let's see what happens," Blunt said.
Blunt visited Eolia, New London and Troy to discuss broadband services, tax reform, economic development and health care access.
He met with directors of the Ralls County Electric Cooperative board, Ralls County leaders, Missouri State Department of Agriculture Director Chris Chinn, Missouri Department of Economic Development Director of Broadband Development Tim Arbeiter, and other elected leaders at the Cooperative's offices in New London to discuss rural broadband.
"Access to high-speed broadband is going to be as important in the coming decade as having a telephone was 70 years ago," Blunt said. "We ought to make the same kind of commitment ... no matter how far they live down the line."
The Ralls County Electric Cooperative started offering broadband services 15 years ago through a wireless service based on membership demand, said cooperative CEO and General Manager Lynn Hodges. The cooperative decided to install a fiber optic network after it realized its wireless service was not sustainable.
The switch was a major economic decision, Hodges said.
"Where we stand today is we're 100 percent built out (with fiber)," Hodges said. "We have already upgraded the system ... so we've moved into a multi-gigabit network. We also do television and telephone services here."
The cooperative is building fiber lines into areas outside of the cooperative’s service borders to meet the needs of outlying areas, Hodges said. To do this, the cooperative has to get easements from landowners and find the financing through grants and other funding sources.
"This co-op has reached a financial threshold. We can't borrow much more money. We're basically at the borrowing capacity," Hodges said. "You can't ask all of our members to pay for non-member services. That's the difficult part."
One way Blunt wants to fund broadband services is by using universal service funds for expansion. People who live close to services shouldn't have an advantage over those in more outlying areas, he said.
The universal access funds are dedicated to making sure everyone has a telephone.
"The person who is trying to decide when to sell their crop or make a commodity investment shouldn't be three minutes behind anybody else that is making that kind of decision," Blunt said.
Increased access to broadband also will be necessary in regard to precision farming as well as rural medicine, he said.
"(Precision farming) is a huge expanding opportunity for us. ... Telemedicine — both traditional telemedicine, traditional behavioral health — if we're involved as we are now in this response to the opioid crisis in the country, a significant part of successfully getting through that is having the behavioral health you need and having it in a way you can easily access it," Blunt said.