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2020-02-18 18:24:041 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Border wall construction (Image source: Public domain)
Donald Trump is once again looking for more money for his signature border wall. His administration again plans to take money earmarked for the Pentagon to fund the president's pet project. This has lawmakers on both sides of the aisle upset.
In particular, the top Democrat and Republican on the House Armed Services Committee are speaking up against this money grab. $3.8 billion is being taken from multiple weapons programs and transferred into the counter-drug fund so that it can be used for the border barrier project.
"The re-programming announced today is contrary to Congress's constitutional authority, and I believe that it requires Congress to take action. I will be working with my colleagues to determine the appropriate steps to take," said committee ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) in a statement when the funding shift was announced.
While he didn't blame Trump, per se, he did say that re-programming the funding "undermines the principle of civilian control of the military and is in violation of the separation of powers within the Constitution." He added that wall funding "must come through the Department of Homeland Security rather than diverting critical military resources that are needed and in law."
His Democratic counterpart, House Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith (D-WA), said the administration is stealing the cash just to fulfill a campaign promise. "The president is obsessed with fulfilling a campaign promise at the expense of our national security. This administration has already stolen billions from the Department of Defense in order to begin building the president's vanity wall, and today they are doubling down on bad policy," he said.
Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee Democrats referred to the funding transfer as "divisive" and "poisonous to the relationship we seek on national defense matters."
"As was the case last year, the Department of Defense did not request, and the Congress did not provide, any defense funds for border wall construction," the senators wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
"This repeated maneuver to transfer funds once again is in contrast to the long-established processes involving consultation with the defense oversight committees of Congress on reprogramming and transfers," continued the senators.
"Engaging in this scheme again is not only divisive but also poisonous to the relationship we seek on national defense matters — which should be above this type of rancor and partnership."
The White House took money that was originally set to pay for aircraft, ships, vehicles, and other programs to build 177 miles of fencing. This $3.8 billion in funding is on top of the $6.1 billion Trump took from the Pentagon last year for the same reason after declaring a national emergency so that he could do so. Congress voted twice to overturn the emergency but wasn't able to override Trump's vetoes. Last week the emergency was renewed for another year.
"Congress has repeatedly voted in a bipartisan way to refuse funding the president's wasteful, ineffective border wall," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader (D-NY) in a joint statement. "This latest effort to steal Congressionally-appropriated military funding undermines our national security and the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution."
Esper defended the money transfer, explaining at an international security conference in Munich that "border security is national security." He was asked about both Democrats and Republicans pushing back on this transfer and insisted it's "legal under the law," adding, "That should be no surprise, and I'll just leave it at that for now."
"We are dismayed that the Department decided to target congressional increases to a vast number of critical programs, from aircraft to ships, including the perennially-underfunded Army National Guard, Air National Guard, and other Reserve Components," wrote the Democratic senators to Esper.
"We urge you to bear in mind that Congress has paid for the projects you have canceled once, and we are under no obligation to pay for them a second time."
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and other lawmakers expressed their concern over the Guard and Reserve dollars in particular. This is being taken from the Overseas Contingency Operations war fund.
"These funds were intended to upgrade outdated aircraft and maintain readiness by improving equipment and weapons systems, which could affect West Virginia's National Guard and Reserve units' preparedness as well as manufacturing jobs in our state," said the senator who has supported the border wall. "This is a direct violation of Congress's power to appropriate funds."
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