California’s politicians and pundits – including this one – have been busily speculating on what effect a Donald Trump presidency could have on a state that rejected him overwhelmingly.
Well, we saw the first major impact last week, without Trump even lifting a finger.
A compromise bill that, in effect, reallocates federally controlled water in California – much to the delight of farmers and the dismay of environmentalists – won final congressional approval Friday.
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Hammered out by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Bakersfield’s Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader of the House, it broke a half-decade-long political logjam over the issue, and there is little doubt that uncertainty over Trump’s attitude was its driving force.
Feinstein obviously decided that a compromise now would be better than taking a chance on what the Republicans who control both houses of Congress and Trump might do on water once he was inaugurated.
“I believe these provisions are both necessary and will help our state,” Feinstein said.
California’s other senator, Barbara Boxer, denounced the Feinstein-McCarthy deal in her last major senatorial utterance before retiring.
“I think it is absolutely a horrible process, a horrible rider,” Boxer said during Friday’s debate. “It’s going to result in pain and suffering among our fishing families.”
The omnibus water bill, whose major provisions go way beyond California, would provide more water to San Joaquin farmers – and less to fish habitat in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta – and ease dam construction while providing funds for desalination and recycling projects.
Conceivably, it could affect how state politicians approach the water issue as well since the system that draws water from the Delta and delivers it to farmers and residential and commercial users as far south as San Diego is a joint federal-state apparatus.
Gov. Jerry Brown has championed boring twin tunnels beneath the Delta to carry Sacramento River water to the head of the California Aqueduct near Tracy, arguing that it would improve the Delta’s fragile environment.
If the deal brings higher flows to farmers, it could bolster Brown’s argument for the tunnels – especially since federal approval and money are needed to build them – or the case against them, as environmentalists seek more state water for Delta wildlife. It also could jump-start long-delayed water-storage projects.
We probably won’t know how it plays out for years. Whatever its impact, though, the Feinstein-McCarthy deal demonstrates that the Bakersfield congressman will be a pivotal figure in the Trump-California relationship.
All of the handwringing and defiant, man-the-battlements rhetoric aside, California depends on Washington for tens of billions of dollars each year, particularly for health and welfare services, including 3.8 million additional Medi-Cal enrollees under Obamacare. It also routinely seeks “waivers” on how it spends that money.
The water deal indicates that McCarthy will be the go-to guy when California seeks favors from a president who will see the state as an enemy.