Baker Is Key To Minimizing Trump Cuts, Says Capuano: The Guv Is The Only Elephant In The Room

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With GOP majorities in the U.S. House and Senate, and Republican President Donald Trump pursuing drastic budget cuts and the reformulation of health care funding, Massachusetts could soon see a painful decrease in help from the federal government. The GOP agenda leaves Republican Gov. Charlie Baker in a tough spot between his political party and his state.

A new poll from consulting firm Novus found that more than a third of Massachusetts voters now look to Baker to protect federal spending. While a total of 45 percent of those polled expect the congressional delegation to keep the state in the money, only 30 percent favor U.S. senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, and just 14 percent favor the nine Democratic House members.

Rep. Mike Capuano, part of the state's all-Democratic delegation, says he's confident that Baker can join other moderate governors to influence Trump and Congress.

"I think it's actually a pretty good level of confidence not because of his relationship with Trump, but because of his relationship with other Republican governors around the country who are in a comparable situation. Not every Republican is a whackjob right-wing nut. As a matter of fact, most of them are not. They're pretty moderate," Capuano said Monday at a UMass Boston-sponsored panel discussion of the poll findings.

State budget experts have warned that Trump's proposed changes to Medicaid and cuts to programs like the National Institutes of Health could harm not only the state budget but also the Massachusets' economy.

Every member of Massachusetts's congressional delegation is a Democrat. There are some senior House members with powerful committee roles and a megawatt liberal star in Warren, but as long as Republicans control the White House and Congress, there's only so much Democrats can do to protect the state from cuts to programs like Medicaid and the National Institutes of Health.

That shines a spotlight on Baker, the state's only high-ranking Republican. He's no fan of Trump, but his personal and political connections to federal health care and budget officials may be the only thing keeping billions in federal funds from leaving the Bay State.

"If the governor, who probably has more health care experience than most any governor around... can find the way, with help from our congressional delegation," said Lynn Nicholas, the president of the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association when asked about Massachusetts's role in TrumpCare, "then you would think that [Trump] would want to help us a bit because somebody's got to show that it can work."

Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in Massachusetts by over 27 percentage point in last November's election that also sent the nine Democratic House members back to Washington with easy wins.

"I think Charlie's best approach," Capuano said, "is to do what he can with the administration, but also make sure he forms a coalition with other moderate Republicans and Democrats. I just don't think the Trump administration can take on every single governor in the country," Capuano said.

When asked if he's thankful for having at least one Republican with standing to influence Congress, Capuano said he's thankful to "have somebody in the Corner Office who I think knows these things."

The same poll found that Baker still enjoys sky-high approval ratings, with nearly 70 percent of voters giving him positive marks.

Nevertheless, in the months to come, Baker faces a daunting juggling act. He needs to maintain his influence with the Washington ranks of the Republican party in order to deliver the goods to an overwhelmingly Democratic state. And, at the same time, minimize friction with Trump's ardent Bay State supporters. Plaudits from Democratic officials are thus a double edged sword. Baker was unavailable for comment.

Rebecca Rutenberg