Law­mak­ers crit­i­cized

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY PAUL SONNE, JEFF STEIN AND NICK MIROFF [email protected]­ [email protected]­ [email protected]­ Dan Lamothe con­trib­uted to this re­port.

a White House plan to take an ad­di­tional $7.2 bil­lion in Pen­tagon fund­ing to pay for the border wall.

Law­mak­ers from both par­ties crit­i­cized White House plans to take an ad­di­tional $7.2 bil­lion this year from Pen­tagon funds to pay for Pres­i­dent Trump’s border wall project, as more con­gres­sion­ally ap­proved ren­o­va­tion and con­struc­tion plans for U.S. mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions risked los­ing their fund­ing.

For the sec­ond year in a row, the White House is plan­ning to ob­tain the ma­jor­ity of the fund­ing it wants for Trump’s bar­rier project by de­fund­ing con­struc­tion and main­te­nance projects on mil­i­tary bases at home and abroad and tak­ing money from else­where in the Pen­tagon’s bud­get by fun­nel­ing it through the coun­ternar­cotics pro­gram.

Se­nior Repub­li­cans grum­bled about the plan but mostly put the blame on Democrats, who agreed to pro­vide $1.4 bil­lion in border bar­rier fund­ing this year — far less than the $5 bil­lion Trump re­quested.

“I wish they’d get the money some­where else, in­stead of de­fense,” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-ala.), chair­man of the Se­nate Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee. “But I do sup­port build­ing the wall.”

The White House shifted $2.5 bil­lion us­ing coun­ternar­cotics au­thor­i­ties last year, but this year Trump plans to boost that to $3.5 bil­lion. Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials also are plan­ning to take $3.7 bil­lion in mil­i­tary con­struc­tion fund­ing, slightly more than the $3.6 bil­lion di­verted in 2019.

“I think it’s out­ra­geous,” said Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), the top Demo­crat on the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee. Reed called it “a slap to the mil­i­tary as well as a slap to Congress” and “an­other ex­am­ple of Congress sit­ting down and try­ing to di­rect re­sources that are of crit­i­cal need to the Depart­ment of De­fense, and then hav­ing those needs dis­re­garded by the pres­i­dent for a project that is more po­lit­i­cal than nec­es­sary for na­tional se­cu­rity.”

The ad­di­tional funds would give the ad­min­is­tra­tion the money to build about 885 miles of new bar­ri­ers by 2022, sig­nif­i­cantly more than the 509 miles the ad­min­is­tra­tion had set as a tar­get for the end of Trump’s first term.

De­spite launch­ing his run for the pres­i­dency on a prom­ise to make Mexico pay for the cost of a “border wall,” Trump has strug­gled to con­vince law­mak­ers the project is nec­es­sary and use­ful. If his ad­min­is­tra­tion di­verts $7.2 bil­lion again this year, it will bring the to­tal amount of funds bud­geted for Trump’s wall to $18.4 bil­lion.

Most of that money — $13.3 bil­lion — will de­rive from De­fense Depart­ment money ap­pro­pri­ated by Congress for other pur­poses.

“I’m not in fa­vor of di­ver­sions of bud­gets that were ap­pro­pri­ated for spe­cific pur­poses, and I’d rather see spe­cific ap­pro­pri­a­tions for the wall,” Sen. Mitt Rom­ney (R-utah) said Tues­day.

Law­mak­ers ap­pro­pri­ated $1.05 bil­lion for drug in­ter­dic­tion and coun­ter­drug ac­tiv­i­ties in the 2020 fis­cal year, far less than the $3.5 bil­lion the White House is seek­ing to di­vert from those pro­grams this year. That means the Pen­tagon would have to find money else­where in its bud­get for the re­main­ing $2.45 bil­lion.

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials re­peat­edly have tried to play down the po­ten­tial im­pact of the fund­ing ma­neu­ver on mil­i­tary as­sets and op­er­a­tions, de­pict­ing the move as an act of cre­ative ac­count­ing. The $3.6 bil­lion the White House shifted from 2019 mil­i­tary con­struc­tion projects would be “de­ferred,” Pen­tagon of­fi­cials said last year, and would pro­ceed, in some cases with­out de­lay, once Congress “back­filled” the di­verted funds in the 2020 bud­get.

But that has not hap­pened. In De­cem­ber, House Democrats and Se­nate Repub­li­cans reached agree­ment on a $1.4 tril­lion spend­ing pack­age that did not back­fill the money. As a re­sult, the con­struc­tion projects the Pen­tagon de­funded in 2019 for the wall ef­fec­tively were can­celed.

For those projects to go for­ward, Congress would again have to ap­pro­pri­ate fund­ing for them. House Democrats have op­posed such a ma­neu­ver, which they view as an ac­qui­es­cence to the pres­i­dent’s de­fi­ance of their spend­ing au­thor­i­ties. The Con­sti­tu­tion gives the power of the purse — or the author­ity to fund the govern­ment’s ini­tia­tives and op­er­a­tions — ex­clu­sively to Congress.

In a state­ment is­sued Tues­day evening, a group of Se­nate Democrats led by Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said they op­pose the plan to trans­fer coun­ter­drug fund­ing for the wall and “will force yet an­other vote to ter­mi­nate the Pres­i­dent’s sham na­tional emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion and re­turn th­ese much-needed mil­i­tary con­struc­tion funds back to our mil­i­tary.”

De­fense Sec­re­tary Mark T. Esper, asked Tues­day if he sup­ports the con­tin­ued di­vert­ing of De­fense Depart­ment money to fund the border wall, said that one of the Pen­tagon’s mis­sions is sup­port­ing home­land de­fense. “If that’s what it takes, we are pre­pared to sup­port” it, he said.

The mil­i­tary projects that lost fund­ing to the border bar­rier in 2019 in­cluded schools on mil­i­tary bases at home and abroad, as well as re­pairs to mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions in Puerto Rico that suf­fered dam­age from Hur­ri­cane Maria. The Navy also was forced to stand down on projects meant to fix “life safety vi­o­la­tions” and fire haz­ards at ship main­te­nance build­ings in Vir­ginia.

Euro­pean na­tions also took a hit. More than $700 mil­lion was taken from projects the Pen­tagon agreed to fund in al­lied na­tions in Europe to help shore up de­fenses against Rus­sia af­ter Moscow’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea from neigh­bor­ing Ukraine in 2014.

Esper said those coun­tries, which rely on the United States to pro­tect them in the event of Rus­sian mil­i­tary ac­tion, should “pick up the tab” for the projects them­selves.

The Pen­tagon’s coun­ternar­cotics ac­count had far less money in it than Trump wanted to di­vert to the wall, so the Pen­tagon had to move money into the ac­count from else­where in its bud­get. The funds came from money slated for the Afghan na­tional se­cu­rity forces, the de­struc­tion of chem­i­cal weapons and the pur­chase of pre­ci­sion mis­siles.

The Pen­tagon also tapped un­spent mil­i­tary re­tire­ment funds to come up with the $2.5 bil­lion Trump was de­mand­ing. What funds the Pen­tagon will tap this year to shift $3.5 bil­lion through the coun­ternar­cotics ac­count to wall fi­nanc­ing is un­clear.

Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell, a spokesman for the Pen­tagon, said the De­fense Depart­ment had noth­ing new to an­nounce re­gard­ing this year’s plans.

Reed said he had not spo­ken to GOP sen­a­tors yet, but added “this can’t con­tinue.” Congress ap­proved $738 bil­lion for the na­tional de­fense bud­get this year, up from $716 bil­lion last year.

“We can’t sit there and lis­ten to the Depart­ment of De­fense say we have crit­i­cal needs for the troops, qual­ity of life for their train­ing and their readi­ness and then have that thrown all over­board,” Reed said. “How can you come up to us and say, ‘We des­per­ately need th­ese projects — this is crit­i­cal, it’s crit­i­cal to the qual­ity of life of the troops — and then say, ‘No, not re­ally.’ ”

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has installed 101 miles of new fenc­ing so far, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent con­struc­tion fig­ures.

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