Lawmakers Criticize $3.8 Billion Funding Shift to Support Southern Border Wall

February 18, 2020 Updated: February 18, 2020
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Top lawmakers have criticized the Trump administration after it announced it would shift nearly $4 billion from the military budget toward building some 177 miles of fencing across the U.S.-Mexico border, in efforts to address drug-smuggling activities.

The funding move was announced on Feb. 13 by the Department of Defense (DOD).

The top Democrat and Republican lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee last week criticized the move.

“The reprogramming announced today is contrary to Congress’s constitutional authority, and I believe that it requires Congress to take action,” said committee ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) in a statement following the announcement. “I will be working with my colleagues to determine the appropriate steps to take.”

Thornberry said that the move “undermines the principle of civilian control of the military and is in violation of the separation of powers within the Constitution.”

He added that the wall’s funding “must come through the Department of Homeland Security rather than diverting critical military resources that are needed and in law.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) accused President Donald Trump of being “obsessed” with fulfilling a campaign promise “at the expense of our national security.”

Meanwhile, a joint letter (pdf) addressed to Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Thursday, stated: “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.

“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 reprogrammings and transfers.”

A request was sent to Congress last Thursday, stating that the money is “required to provide support for counter-drug activities of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).”

“DHS has identified areas along the southern border of the United States that are being used by individuals, groups, and transnational criminal organizations as drug smuggling corridors, and determined that the construction of additional physical barriers and roads in the vicinity of the United States border is necessary in order to impede and deny drug smuggling activities,” reads the request, signed by acting DOD comptroller Elaine McCusker.

The request (pdf), divided into two parts, seeks $2.2 billion to be diverted from defense appropriations, and $1.63 billion from the Pentagon’s Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund. The OCO fund is used in military operations against the ISIS terrorist group.

Diverting money from the defense appropriations would affect funding for two F-35 fighters, eight Reaper drones, four Air Force C-130 transport aircraft, two Marine V-22 Osprey helicopters, amphibious ships, National Guard equipment, and Army trucks.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), who has supported the construction of the wall, said on Friday he was concerned about the Guard and Reserve dollars, which are being pulled from the OCO account.

“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,” Manchin said in a statement.

He added that he believes the move is a “direct violation of Congress’s power to appropriate funds.”

Bob Salesses, the deputy assistant defense secretary, told reporters on Thursday that the funds are intended to help build 30-foot fencing on federally-controlled land in six border areas: San Diego and El Centro, California; Yuma and Tuscon, Arizona; and El Paso and Del Rio, Texas. He added that a review by the Pentagon concluded that all the sectors are “high-intensity drug trafficking” areas.

The move comes as President Donald Trump extended the national emergency declaration on the U.S.-Mexico border for another year, according to a notice submitted to the Federal Register (pdf) on Thursday. This is the first time Trump has extended the declaration and follows the initial emergency declaration in February 2019. Since taking office, Trump has demanded that Congress fund construction of a wall on the southern border—his landmark campaign promise.

Mimi Nguyen Ly contributed to this report.