Dems slam Trump plan to move military construction funds for border wall

Dems slam Trump plan to move military construction funds for border wall
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House Democrats on Wednesday hammered Pentagon officials over President Trump's plan to move Defense Department military construction (MILCON) dollars to build his proposed southern border wall after declaring a national emergency.

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment Robert McMahon offered few new details on Trump’s plans to take $3.6 billion in MILCON funds for his project, effectively sidestepping Congress.

The lack of more information angered Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who heads the Appropriations Committee's sub-panel on military construction.

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“I’m not sure what kind of chumps you think my colleagues and I are,” she told McMahon during a particularly testy exchange.

While McMahon assured lawmakers that no military construction projects already authorized by Congress will be canceled, “some current military construction projects may be deferred,” and the president’s fiscal year 2020 budget request “will include a request for funds to replenish funding for these projects.”

He also offered that to protect military readiness, the Pentagon will look to delay projects that “pose no or minimal operational readiness risks if deferred,” those scheduled to be awarded in the last half of the fiscal year, and recapitalization projects on existing facilities that could be put off for several months.

McMahon also said that no money would be taken away from housing for soldiers and their families.

Wasserman Schultz appeared particularly unsatisfied with an explanation from McMahon as to how the Pentagon would move funds between accounts without Congressional oversight.

“What I think we’re doing is executing the president’s, as commander-in- chief, direction to us to be able to fund a portion of the border wall in fiscal year 2019,”McMahon told Wasserman Schultz.

“Mr. Secretary you’re fooling no one, really,” she shot back. “I’m not sure what kind of chumps you think my colleagues and I are, but canceling, deferring, coming back in FY-20 to replace, all leads to the same thing, you are taking money from vital projects that the military previously said were essential, and spending that money on a wall, and then asking that money to be backfilled later in the next fiscal year, when we already had that debate, and the president’s proposal was rejected.”

Wasserman Schultz had already opened the hearing with strong words of condemnation for the president, who declared a national emergency earlier this month in order to shift funding to be used for his proposed border wall after Congress did not allocate the $5.7 billion he demanded in a spending agreement.

“We’re here today because the president has decided that his political agenda is, apparently, more important than our military readiness,” she said in her opening statement. 

“What we are witnessing is a president who poses a direct threat to both our military families and America’s national security. . . . I oppose this dangerous gimmick.”

The subpanel appeared unanimous in their opposition to using military funds to build Trump’s wall, including ranking member Rep. John CarterJohn Rice CarterThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems aim to end anti-Semitism controversy with vote today Dem campaign chief: Medicare for All price tag 'a little scary' Overnight Defense: US reportedly easing demands over North Korean nukes | Trump optimistic for deal | Dems rip plan to use military funds for wall | Pentagon urges India, Pakistan to calm tensions MORE (R-Texas), whose district butts up against Fort Hood Military Base.

“I share the president’s commitment to securing the border. . . . Yet while I stand with the president on this important national security issue, I will not do so at the expense of the soldiers and the families of Fort Hood,” Carter said in his opening remarks.

Rep. Kay GrangerNorvell (Kay) Kay GrangerOn The Money: Trump issues first veto, warning of 'reckless' resolution | US hits Russia with new sanctions | Dems renew push for contractor back pay | Lawmakers seek probe into undocumented workers at Trump businesses House Dems renew push for government contractor back pay The Hill's Morning Report — Cohen testimony turns up heat on Trump associates MORE (R-Texas), meanwhile, asked for the Pentagon to inform Congress of the specific projects the Pentagon would delay, which officials said had not yet been decided on.

Democrats and some Republicans worry that Trump's declaration would undermine military readiness in their districts and beyond. 

In addition to the move to grab $3.6 billion from MILCON, a separate executive action would allow Trump to use $2.5 billion from the Pentagon's counter-drug funds for the wall.

To push back, the House a day earlier voted 245-182 to block Trump's emergency declaration.

Trump has said that he will veto the measure if it reaches his desk.