Blumenthal: Defense spending must come with investment in jobs

Norwich — After briefly celebrating the Interior Department's approval allowing the East Windsor casino to move forward, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., took on a darker tone, talking about how a "national security crisis is upon us now."

At a Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut business luncheon that nearly 150 people attended at the Holiday Inn Norwich on Friday, much of the senator's update focused on the interplay between the defense industry and jobs, plus discussion of infrastructure and immigration.

While Blumenthal said he is happy about President Donald Trump's proposal to increase the Department of Defense budget, he said "alarm bells should sound" at his proposal of a 35 percent cut in Department of Labor training and a 15 percent cut in Department of Education grants for career and educational training.

When La Grua Center Director Lori Robishaw later asked about the president zero-funding federal cultural agencies in his proposal, Blumenthal said he thinks it's "fair to say that budget is dead on arrival."

But he said that if the labor budget were cut by that much, grants from programs such as the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act would be "at grave risk."

Because "we are under attack literally daily by our adversaries in the cyber domain," Blumenthal said, the U.S. needs to invest "in the categories of budget that matter to our economy as well as to our national defense, but the two are inextricably linked."

The senator said that Navy commanders around the world — whether off the coast of China, Africa or Europe — all say that their asymmetric advantage is undersea warfare, and that is due to the work done at Electric Boat.

Blumenthal credited U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District — who has been nicknamed Two Subs Joe — for his advocacy in amped-up submarine production. With a Trump administration budget proposal of three submarines instead of two in fiscal year 2020, the senator joked that he could be Three Subs Blumenthal.

Along with talk of defense spending, he also advocated for investments in roads and bridges, briefly discussed proposals to enable the Department of Justice to take on pharmaceutical price gouging and to enable greater access to name-brand drugs, and pushed for addressing the country's "broken immigration system" in a bipartisan fashion.

"I hear from many of you about the importance of enabling more H-1B visas for the skilled workers that you need," he said. "I hear from our farmers about the need for agricultural [workers]. I hear from the Dreamers, young people brought to this country when they were infants but still undocumented, and I hear from employers who are about to lose trusted, trained, solid workers who came here 20 years ago and were assured by their lawyers, 'You're fine, you don't need to do anything' and now literally face deportation."

During the question-and-answer portion, Gizelle Tircuit-Posey commented that as a psychotherapist, she cannot take veterans with Tricare insurance and asked if movement is being made to change that.

"We are trying to move both the VA and the Department of Defense health care system to greater recognition of behavioral health, emotional health," Blumenthal responded.

Answering a question from North Stonington First Selectman Mike Urgo about climate change, Blumenthal said he regrets Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and that he deplores the emphasis on resurrecting the coal industry.

"I'm a supporter of the Green New Deal," the senator said. "I don't know if we can accomplish everything it seeks to accomplish in 10 years. It's aspirational."

But he added the moon landing was aspirational, and said he is "optimistic that more and more of America will appreciate the importance of climate change."

e.moser@theday.com

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