House panel advances bill to block military construction funds for border wall

House panel advances bill to block military construction funds for border wall
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The House Appropriations Committee on Thursday advanced a bill that would prohibit using military construction funds on a border wall.

The prohibition is included in the fiscal 2020 military construction and veterans affairs appropriations bill, which the committee advanced in a largely party line 31-21 vote. Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdPelosi: GOP retirements indicate they'll be in the minority, with Democrat in the White House Wave of GOP retirements threatens 2020 comeback Texas Republicans sound alarm about rapidly evolving state MORE (R-Texas) voted with Democrats in support of the bill.

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The bill is typically one of the least controversial spending bills, often passing with large bipartisan majorities even as lawmakers struggle to reach wider deals to keep the rest of the government open.

But this year’s military construction budget has become wrapped up in the controversy over President TrumpDonald John TrumpTed Cruz knocks New York Times for 'stunning' correction on Kavanaugh report US service member killed in Afghanistan Pro-Trump website edited British reality star's picture to show him wearing Trump hat MORE’s proposed border wall.

“Whether we agree or disagree on the need for a wall or whether or not there is or is not a crisis at the border, I hope this committee can agree that funds for the wall should not be stolen from previously approved vital military construction projects that are to a dollar a higher priority than any wall,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzDemocrats walk tightrope in fight over Trump wall funds Parkland father: Twitter did not suspend users who harassed me using name of daughter's killer Hillicon Valley: Senate Intel releases election security report | GOP blocks votes on election security bills | Gabbard sues Google over alleged censorship | Barr meets state AGs on tech antitrust concerns MORE (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the subcommittee in charge of the bill.

The bill written by House Democrats would prohibit funds from the 2015 through 2020 fiscal years from being “obligated, expended or used to design, construct, or carry out a project to construct a wall, barrier, fence, or road along the Southern border of the United States or a road to provide access to a wall, barrier, or fence constructed along the Southern border of the United States.”

Rep. Andy HarrisAndrew (Andy) Peter HarrisGOP lawmakers, states back gunmaker in Sandy Hook appeal Conservatives call on Pelosi to cancel August recess GOP put on the back foot by Trump's race storm MORE (R-Md.) offered an amendment to get rid of the prohibition, calling the provision a “poison pill” because Trump won’t sign a bill that “ties his hands.”

“Words were used like ‘stolen funds’ when we talk about what’s been done,” Harris said. “That’s pretty inappropriate because stealing is actually a crime. No crime was committed.”

Harris later threatened disciplinary action against lawmakers continuing to describe the president’s actions as stealing.

His amendment was voted down in a 22-31 vote.

Trump declared a national emergency in February in order to unlock military construction funds to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border without congressional approval.

The Pentagon’s fiscal 2020 budget proposal asked for $3.6 billion to backfill the money expected to be taken for the emergency declaration, as well as another $3.6 billion for any additional construction on the southern border.

Another Republican amendment offered during Thursday’s markup by Rep. John CarterJohn Rice CarterCornyn faces toughest race yet in changing Texas Texas Republicans sound alarm about rapidly evolving state Democrats keen to take on Cornyn despite formidable challenges MORE (R-Texas), the top Republican on the subcommittee in charge of the bill, would have allocated the $7.2 billion requested by the Pentagon. The amendment was voted down 21-31.

The Pentagon has yet to use military construction dollars on the wall, though it has separately transferred $1 billion from Army accounts to use on the wall under separate executive authority.

The Pentagon has pledged it will not touch money meant for military housing or contracts that are scheduled to be awarded this year.

The bill advanced Thursday would provide a total $10.5 billion for military construction and $217.5 billion for veteran’s affairs.

The military construction funds include $2 billion to rebuild military bases battered by Hurricanes Michael and Florence.

There is also $1.5 billion for military housing. That’s $117.8 million below the fiscal 2019 level, but $140.8 million above the administration’s budget request. The committee went higher than the request to address widespread issues in military housing, such as mold, vermin and lead, according to a bill summary.

Updated at 3:10 p.m.