Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that President Donald Trump has personally assured him the money needed to fully fund a new Veterans Affairs hospital in Kentucky's largest city will be included in the White House's budget request to Congress.
The president's commitment to include more than $400 million for the new VA Medical Center in Louisville in his fiscal 2020 budget proposal puts the long-running project in a place where its supporters "can see a light at the end of the tunnel," McConnell said.
The project has dragged on through all or parts of three presidencies since it was originally announced, he said.
"It's not necessarily the end zone, but it's a milestone," McConnell said in announcing Trump's funding support. "This will be the first time any presidential budget has included full funding" for the new hospital.
Trump's budget blueprint is expected to be released soon.
The Kentucky project's supporters already have secured about $450 million — about half of the required funding, McConnell said. Groundbreaking on the new hospital could occur as soon as 2020, he said.
The federal government paid $12.9 million several years ago for a 35-acre (14-hectare), suburban site several miles east of downtown Louisville for the new hospital. It would replace the aging Robley Rex VA Medical Center, which opened in the 1950s east of downtown and serves veterans living in a large swath of Kentucky and portions of Southern Indiana. The new hospital's location was a running debate, with some advocating for downtown or other locations in Louisville. McConnell never endorsed a specific location, focusing instead on getting the funding. The new hospital also will be named for Robley Rex, a veteran who later spent many years serving as a VA volunteer.
McConnell, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said a president's budget proposal is a "starting place" when trying to secure funding for projects. But its inclusion gives its supporters an advantage as it competes for funding with other projects as Congress works on the budget, he said.
"It makes it easier for those of us who are making a final decision to keep it in," the senator said.
McConnell, who is gearing up for his next re-election bid in 2020, has long pointed to his ability to steer federal money to Kentucky in his past campaigns.