Pen­tagon lists cuts for border wall

Dems vow not to re­place $3.6B for de­funded projects

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By An­drew Tay­lor and Lolita C. Bal­dor

WASHINGTON — The Pen­tagon will cut fund­ing from mil­i­tary projects like schools, tar­get ranges and main­te­nance fa­cil­i­ties to pay for the con­struc­tion of 175 miles of fenc­ing along the U.S.-Mex­ico border, di­vert­ing a to­tal $3.6 bil­lion to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s long­promised bar­rier.

Projects in 23 states, 19 coun­tries and three U.S. ter­ri­to­ries would be stalled or killed by the move, though just $1.1 bil­lion in cuts would strike the con­ti­nen­tal U.S., ac­cord­ing to a list re­leased Wed­nes­day by the Pen­tagon. Al­most $700 mil­lion would come from projects in U.S. ter­ri­to­ries, with $1.8 bil­lion more com­ing from projects on over­seas bases.

Trump’s move would take the big­gest step yet in de­liv­er­ing on his long-stand­ing prom­ise to build a wall to block im­mi­grants from en­ter­ing the coun­try il­le­gally. But that may come at the ex­pense of projects that the Pen­tagon ac­knowl­edged may be dif­fi­cult to fund anew.

A se­nior de­fense of­fi­cial told re­porters the Pen­tagon is hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with mem­bers of Congress to urge them to re­store the fund­ing. The of­fi­cial agreed that the depart­ment has “a lot of work ahead of us,” con­sid­er­ing that Congress has given no guar­an­tee it will pro­vide money for the de­funded projects. The of­fi­cial spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

In ad­di­tion, new stretches of fenc­ing pro­posed along the Rio Grande and through a wildlife refuge in Ari­zona prom­ise to ig­nite le­gal bat­tles that could de­lay the wall projects as well.

The mil­i­tary base projects fac­ing the chop­ping block tend to ad­dress less ur­gent needs like new park­ing at the U.S. Mil­i­tary Academy at West Point, New York, and a va­ri­ety of small-arms ranges at bases in Wis­con­sin and Ok­la­homa. But a “cy­ber ops fa­cil­ity” in Hamp­ton, Vir­ginia, and the ex­pan­sion of a mis­sile de­fense field at Fort Gree­ley, Alaska, also face the ax.

Trump has suc­ceeded in build­ing re­place­ment bar­ri­ers within the 654 miles of fenc­ing built dur­ing the Obama and Bush ad­min­is­tra­tions. The fund­ing shift will al­low for about 115 miles of new pedes­trian fenc­ing in ar­eas where there isn’t any now.

“The wall is be­ing built. It’s go­ing up rapidly,” Trump said Wed­nes­day.

New stretches of fenc­ing are sure to spark le­gal bat­tles with landown­ers and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists. The Pen­tagon plan also fu­els the con­tro­versy be­tween the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and Congress over im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies and the fund­ing of the wall.

“It doesn’t take any in­put from the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. It will take away from the pri­vate prop­erty rights,” said Rep. Henry Cuel­lar, D-Texas. “We are go­ing to do ev­ery­thing we can to stop the pres­i­dent.”

Cuel­lar sug­gested Democrats will look at a must-pass fund­ing bill this month — re­quired to pre­vent a gov­ern­ment shut­down Oct. 1 — to try to take on Trump. But a more likely venue for the bat­tle could be on­go­ing House-Se­nate ne­go­ti­a­tions over the an­nual Pen­tagon pol­icy mea­sure.

Law­mak­ers who re­fused ear­lier this year to ap­prove nearly $6 bil­lion for the wall must now de­cide if they will re­store the projects that are be­ing used to pro­vide the money.

“To pay for his xeno­pho­bic border wall boon­dog­gle, Pres­i­dent Trump is about to weaken our na­tional se­cu­rity by steal­ing bil­lions of dol­lars from our mil­i­tary,” said Rep. Deb­bie Wasser­man Schultz, D-Fla., who chairs a key mil­i­tary con­struc­tion panel.

One of the Se­nate’s most en­dan­gered Repub­li­cans in the 2020 elec­tion, Ari­zona Sen. Martha McSally, re­ported that her state is get­ting nicked for just $30 mil­lion from a project that was be­ing de­layed any­way. Ge­or­gia, where two po­ten­tially com­pet­i­tive Se­nate races loom next year, would be spared, though Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., him­self fac­ing re­elec­tion, would lose a $63 mil­lion mid­dle school at Fort Camp­bell.

“We need to se­cure our border and pro­tect our mil­i­tary; we can and should do both,” McSally said.

Elaine McCusker, the Pen­tagon comp­trol­ler, said the nowun­funded projects are not be­ing can­celed. In­stead, the Pen­tagon is say­ing the mil­i­tary projects are be­ing “de­ferred.”

Congress ap­proved $1.375 bil­lion for wall con­struc­tion in this year’s bud­get, same as the pre­vi­ous year and far less than the $5.7 bil­lion that the White House sought. Trump grudg­ingly ac­cepted the money to end a 35-day gov­ern­ment shut­down in Fe­bru­ary but de­clared a na­tional emer­gency to take money from other gov­ern­ment ac­counts, iden­ti­fy­ing up to $8.1 bil­lion for wall con­struc­tion.

The trans­ferred funds in­clude $600 mil­lion from the Trea­sury Depart­ment’s as­set for­fei­ture fund, $2.5 bil­lion from De­fense Depart­ment coun­ter­drug ac­tiv­i­ties and now the $3.6 bil­lion pot for mil­i­tary hous­ing con­struc­tion an­nounced Tues­day.

The Pen­tagon re­viewed the list of mil­i­tary projects and said none that pro­vided hous­ing or crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture for troops would be af­fected, in the wake of re­cent scan­dals over poor liv­ing quar­ters for ser­vice mem­bers in sev­eral parts of the coun­try. De­fense of­fi­cials also said they would fo­cus on projects set to be­gin in 2020 and be­yond, with the hope that the money could even­tu­ally be re­stored by Congress.

The gov­ern­ment will spend the mil­i­tary hous­ing money on 11 wall projects in Cal­i­for­nia, Ari­zona and Texas, the ad­min­is­tra­tion said in a fil­ing Tues­day in a law­suit brought by the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union. The most ex­pen­sive is for 52 miles in Laredo, Texas, at a cost of $1.27 bil­lion.

The 175 miles cov­ered by the Pen­tagon fund­ing rep­re­sents just a frac­tion of the 1,954-mile U.S.-Mex­ico border.

HERIKA MAR­TINEZ/GETTY-AFP

The Pen­tagon’s $3.6 bil­lion fund­ing shift will al­low for about 115 miles of new fenc­ing in ar­eas where there isn’t any now.

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