Top Republican says $7B in Pentagon budget for wall should go to defense

Top Republican says $7B in Pentagon budget for wall should go to defense
© Greg Nash

The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee said Tuesday he does not support the Pentagon’s request to put $7 billion in its fiscal year 2020 budget for President TrumpDonald John TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' MORE’s proposed border wall.

In a response to a question from The Hill about whether he wants to use those funds for something else, Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryNegotiators kick off defense bill talks amid border wall, Iran debates Defense bill talks set to start amid wall fight House rejects GOP motion on replacing Pentagon funding used on border wall MORE (R-Texas) said, “Yes.”

“I want to take that $750 [billion] and use it for defense,” he added, referring to the administration’s entire defense funding request. “That’s what I would want to do.”

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Thornberry told reporters he supports a physical barrier on the border, but that “it ought to be funded on its own.”

The Texas Republican has previously said he does not support using Pentagon money to build the wall, but his comments Tuesday were the first on the fiscal 2020 budget proposal released by the White House this week, indicating Pentagon officials will face an uphill battle when they come to Capitol Hill to defend their funding request.

The Pentagon’s fiscal 2020 budget proposal, detailed Tuesday, includes $9.2 billion in “emergency” funding. Of that amount, $2 billion would be for hurricane recovery.

The bulk of the emergency funding would be for the wall. Specifically, $3.6 billion would be used to backfill military construction accounts that Trump plans to dip into as part of his national emergency declaration. Another $3.6 billion would be for new construction on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Pentagon’s budget request has also drawn controversy over the amount included in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. The $164 billion request for OCO, typically used for war funding, includes $98 billion in what would otherwise be considered base budget items.

The account is not subject to statutory budget caps, and the Trump administration has acknowledged it is using OCO to avoid negotiating a budget deal with Democrats that would likely increase non-defense spending.

Thornberry said on Tuesday he didn’t think the OCO plan was the “Pentagon’s idea."

He said “everybody knows” there’s “got to be a budget deal,” and encouraged his colleagues in Congress to work one out as soon as possible.

“Part of the reason I keep pushing on, ‘Let’s just sit down and negotiate this stuff out,’ I’d just as soon not have another shutdown over wall funding, so let’s negotiate it now,” he said. “How much for the wall, where it comes from would be part of those negotiations.”