A chorus of Democrats swiftly condemned the money grab, as did the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas.
In a statement, Thornberry dinged the Pentagon for shifting money specifically allocated by Congress and said the move “undermines the principle of civilian control of the military and is in violation of the separation of powers.”
“The re-programming announced today is contrary to Congress’s constitutional authority, and I believe that it requires Congress to take action,” Thornberry said. “I will be working with my colleagues to determine the appropriate steps to take.”
The money will be drawn from a host of procurement accounts, many of which are popular on Capitol Hill. The move includes a cut of two Marine Corps F-35B fighter jets at a cost of $223 million; $100 million from the Army National Guard’s Humvee modernization program; $650 million cut from the Navy’s amphibious assault ship replacement; and $261 million from the Expeditionary Fast Transport ship. The reprogramming also trimmed two Air Force C-130J transport aircraft for a cut of $196 million and $180 million from the service’s light attack aircraft program.
The Pentagon also sapped an extra $1.3 billion from National Guard and Reserve equipment accounts, for which Congress has typically sought to allocate increased funding.
The Pentagon noted in its reprogramming that each account being raided is a “congressional special interest item” where lawmakers boosted funding beyond what the administration requested.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), the chair of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, said the move doesn’t make sense, given the amount of money already flowing to the wall and the president’s request for just $2 billion next fiscal year.
“They’re flush with money,” she said on Thursday. “They have plenty of money, which they haven’t used.”
Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a close ally of Trump, expressed displeasure with the move, but noted the importance of the effort to increase border security.
“Here’s the problem I have. … It shouldn’t be everything’s always defense. Homeland Security, all these other people … it’s their turn,” Inhofe told reporters.
“We have a pretty good regular conversation going, the president and me, but we didn’t talk about this,” Inhofe said. “Right now we have shortfalls in our defense budget, and I do want to visit with the president about this.”
Trump’s fiscal 2021 budget request for $2 billion comes on top of nearly $1.4 billion that congressional leaders agreed to provide this fiscal year, and it’s far less than the $8.6 billion that he sought last year.
Ahead of Trump’s budget release on Monday, administration officials noted that about $8.4 billion in Homeland Security and Defense Department funding is already flowing toward a border barrier.
“This request is based on what’s required to gain operational control of the border,” a senior administration official told POLITICO on Sunday. “Since taking office, President Trump has prioritized funding for a border wall. With funding available, the administration will build up to approximately 1,000 miles of border wall along the southwest border.“
Trump will keep shuffling money toward the wall unless Congress adds spending bill language that prohibits him from doing so, Roybal-Allard said.
Congress has so far failed to attach any prohibitive language since Trump declared a national emergency last February, successfully diverting $6.7 billion from military construction and other accounts for a southern barrier.
House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.), the chairman of the Defense spending panel, said in a statement that the move once again disrespects “the separation of powers” and endangers “our security by raiding military resources to pay for his wasteful border wall.”
“While some of our Republican colleagues will lament the President’s decision, they enabled this theft by blocking our efforts to stop the President from raiding defense accounts,” the appropriators wrote. “Until they stand up to President Trump, our national security will continue to be threatened and our Constitutional system of government will continue to be undermined.”
The Washington Post reported last month that Trump plans to shift an extra $7.2 billion this year from the military toward border wall construction. Of that, $3.7 billion would come from military construction projects and $3.5 billion would be taken via the counterdrug account.
House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) on Thursday said the transfer would likely reignite a fight over border wall money on Capitol Hill, but noted Trump has an advantage if Republicans don’t break ranks.
“We’re going to scream about it. We’re going to complain about it. We’re going to try to stop it anyway we can,” Smith told POLITICO. “But at the end of the day, unless Republicans in Congress support us, then we won’t be able to get it done.”
“We’re going to fight that fight. The president obviously has the upper hand as we saw in 2019,” he said.