Trump Spurs Lawmaker Outcry With Shift of Pentagon Money to Wall

(Bloomberg) -- The list of military projects deferred to pay for a $3.6 billion tranche of President Donald Trump’s border wall drew bipartisan complaints -- potentially increasing pressure on Congress to resolve the long-running conflict over Trump’s signature initiative or to find the money elsewhere.

The cuts announced Wednesday will affect states represented by members of both parties, including $62.6 million for a middle school at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and $160 million for engineering and parking projects at the U.S. Military Academy in New York, home to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Alaska, represented by Republicans, and Virginia, represented mostly by Democrats, are also among the biggest losers on the hit list, as are Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands, with the trio of territories targeted for $687 million in deferred projects.

The Department of Defense’s plan to defer spending -- with $1.1 billion coming from facilities in 23 states and the rest from projects in U.S. territories and overseas -- follows the national emergency Trump declared earlier this year to unilaterally shift taxpayer money to uses not authorized by Congress.

Trump declared the emergency after the deal he struck with lawmakers to end a lengthy government shutdown didn’t fully fund the wall he promised to build on the U.S.-Mexico border. Congress passed a bipartisan resolution to end the national emergency but didn’t have enough votes to override the president’s veto.

Bipartisan Opposition

A handful of Republican senators seeking re-election next year are facing cuts in their states, including Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who penned a Washington Post op-ed to oppose Trump’s emergency declaration, only to later flip and vote with the president in March. Among the deferrals in his state are projects at Camp Lejeune, one of the state’s major employers. Projects in Arizona, Colorado, Texas and South Carolina are also on the list.

The overseas cuts were even larger, including more than $100 million from European projects that are part of a broader initiative that began in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

“President Trump is, yet again, putting Vladimir Putin before the security of the American people and our allies,” Schumer said in a statement Thursday. “Cutting the funding used to reinforce our trusted European allies against Russian aggression in order to advance the president’s politically motivated vanity project — that he promised Mexico would pay for — is outrageous, wrong, and weakens our national security.”

Even Utah’s Republican Senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, two of 12 Senate Republicans who voted to block Trump’s emergency declaration, issued a joint statement opposing the diversion of $54 million intended for projects at Hill Air Force Base.

“Funding the border wall is an important priority, and the executive branch should use the appropriate channels in Congress, rather than divert already appropriated funding away from military construction projects and therefore undermining military readiness,” said Romney, who said he’d fight to restore the funding.

‘Dishonors the Constitution’

Democratic leaders have vowed to continue opposing Trump’s wall and his unilateral diversions to pay for it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday Trump’s move “dishonors the Constitution” and vowed to fight the president “in the courts, in the Congress and in the court of public opinion.”

Schumer also said redirecting military funds “is an affront to our service members and Congress will strongly oppose any funds for new wall construction.”

Lawmakers in both parties could seek to restore the funding as part of the conference report to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act. It could also come up later this year as appropriators finalize annual spending bills.

Lee called for constraining the ability of presidents to divert money without Congress.

“Congress has been ceding far too much powers to the executive branch for decades and it is far past time for Congress to restore the proper balance of power between the three branches,” Lee said. “We should start that process by passing the ARTICLE ONE Act, which would correct the imbalances caused by the National Emergencies Act.”

Lee’s bill would end emergency declarations by presidents automatically after 30 days unless Congress votes to extend them. Under current law, Congress must override a presidential veto to block any emergency declaration.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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