House Dems unveil bill to limit Pentagon's ability to transfer military construction dollars

House Dems unveil bill to limit Pentagon's ability to transfer military construction dollars

A group of House Armed Services Committee Democrats on Wednesday released a bill that would limit the amount of military construction funds the Pentagon is allowed to transfer between accounts after the Defense Department shifted billions of dollars for President Trump’s proposed border wall.

The bill — led by Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Pentagon waiting for Saudi assessment on attack | Defense bill talks begin | Border fight takes centerstage | Pentagon finalizes .5B in wall contracts | US withholds Afghan aid citing corruption House Armed Services panel gets classified briefing on Saudi attacks Negotiators kick off defense bill talks amid border wall, Iran debates MORE (Wash.) and Reps. Ruben GallegoRuben Gallego2020 Democrats raise alarm about China's intellectual property theft Harris picks up endorsement from influential lawmaker as support slips Democratic lawmaker: Russia, China benefitting from continued US troop presence in Afghanistan MORE (Ariz.) and John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiHouse Democrats inch toward majority support for impeachment Trump bashes Mueller for 'ineptitude,' slams 'sick' Democrats backing impeachment Pelosi denies she's 'trying to run out the clock' on impeachment MORE (Calif.) — would cap national emergency military construction authority at $250 million per emergency, according to a committee statement.

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The legislation follows acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan’s approved transfer last week of $1.5 billion from various accounts to be used on Trump’s border wall. That followed an unprecedented approval in March to transfer $1 billion to the wall.

Shanahan broke decades of precedent by transferring the money without the approval of congressional leaders, causing an uproar with Democrats.

“This bill will ensure that the armed services will no longer be a bottomless piggy bank for the President’s worst political impulses, and will instead stay a ready, prepared, and highly professional force focused on the external defense of the nation rather than on doing the Department of Homeland Security’s job,” Gallego said in the statement.

Smith, meanwhile, called the reprogramming “an affront to military readiness.”

“While Congress has for years granted the Department the flexibility to carry out military construction projects that support troops responding to a national emergency, such as after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the President’s threat to use military construction funding to build portions of the border wall would be an inappropriate use of that authority,” Smith said. 

In addition to the spending cap, the bill would only allow money that cannot be spent for its intended purpose to be used for an emergency, and would require additional information be provided to Congress when it is notified of the transfer.

The bill would also delay the start of construction until after a waiting period following congressional notification.

The bill is similar to a provision in the House Appropriations Committee’s fiscal 2020 defense spending bill, which would limit the amount of money the Pentagon is allowed to transfer between accounts.

That legislation, released Tuesday and advanced on Wednesday, would reduce the Pentagon’s authority to transfer money from the $9.5 billion requested to $1.5 billion. It would also reduce the threshold for reprogramming funding that was previously approved, as well as prohibit any funding included in the bill to be used to build border barriers.