WASHINGTON — Bipartisan opposition is growing to President Trump’s plan to once again raid the Pentagon’s budget to pay for construction of the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
The targeted haul this time is $3.8 billion from major weapons programs, warfighting slots, and the National Guard.
“Congress has the constitutional responsibility to determine how defense dollars are spent. We take the Pentagon’s recommendations seriously during our deliberations, but the final decisions are contained in the bills passed by Congress and signed into law. Once those choices have been made, the Department of Defense cannot change them in pursuit of their own priorities without the approval of Congress,” Rep. Mac Thornberry, (R-Tex.) ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
“The re-programming announced today is contrary to Congress’s constitutional authority,” he said.
During budget negotiations last year, Congress dropped a Democratic-backed measure to forbid such reprogramming. By striking that from the final bill, Congress removed a legal impediment to a White House fund shifts.
“They (Congress) had the opportunity to look closely at this authority, and the authority remained,” Jonathan Rath Hoffman, the chief Pentagon spokesperson, told Pentagon reporters on Wednesday.
Hoffman reiterated that the funds that are to be transferred are for weapons systems projects in excess of Pentagon requests or for projects such a shipbuilding, where there is not capacity to undertake the building in the near future.
The decision on the shifts occured last week, Hoffman said.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said that “this Administration has already stolen billions from the Department of Defense in order to begin building the President’s vanity wall and today they are doubling down on bad policy.
“The President loves to take credit for ‘rebuilding’ the military, but today’s reprogramming decision does the exact opposite – it will prevent the acquisition of critical ships, vehicles, and aircraft,” Smith said in a statement.
Smith noted that the decision strikes money from needed platforms and does not “support our strategic advantage over Russia and China, support counterterrorism, address rogue states, or enhance relations with partners and allies.”
Technically, the White House is shifting money from weapons to the Pentagon’s counter drug fund, where it can be used for wall construction. They cite powers of “general transfer authority” and “special transfer authority” in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act as the legal basis for not needing approval from Congress.
President Trump had declared a national emergency in regards to activities on the US-Mexico border as earlier justification for shutting the money..
The latest fund shift comes along with reports of new, innovative methods to elude the wall have risen along the border —including ladders that blend into the color and scheme of the wall — and new reports of critical habitat ares being destroyed without going through legal steps.