House panel seeks to block Pentagon funds for border wall

House panel seeks to block Pentagon funds for border wall
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The House Armed Services Committee’s version of the annual defense policy would prohibit using any Pentagon funding for a border wall.

The prohibition on using funds for a wall, fence or other physical barrier is one of several provisions in the Democratic-led committee’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in response to President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative MORE’s repeated use of the military to fulfill his campaign pledge to build a wall on the southern border.

“The majority members feel strongly that Department of Defense money should not be used for border security,” a committee staffer told reporters ahead of the bill’s release.

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Overall, the House’s fiscal 2020 NDAA would authorize a $733 billion defense budget, including $633 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget, $69 billion for a war fund and $22.7 billion for Department of Energy nuclear programs.

The Trump administration proposed a $750 billion defense budget, which defense hawks say is needed to ensure the military is ready to counter Russia and China.

But Democrats are defending the $733 billion as covering all the Pentagon’s needs.

“A large chunk of that money was intended for the wall,” the committee staffer said of the $750 billion. “And we went with what the departments requirements were.”

The Pentagon's budget request asked for $7.2 billion for the wall, money that was not included in the bill.

Trump declared a national emergency in February to be able to dip into military construction funding to build the wall without congressional approval.

The Pentagon has yet to use military construction money on the wall. But under separate executive authority, the Pentagon has moved $2.5 billion from various accounts into its counter-drug account to use for the wall.

The military also has thousands of active-duty and National Guard troops deployed to the border in a support role. Last week, it was revealed that includes painting border fencing.

Furious about the Pentagon transferring counter-drug funds without congressional approval in defiance of long-standing procedure, Democrats included in the NDAA a prohibition on reprogramming funds into the counter-drug account.

There would also be a modification of the counter-drug authority to exclude the ability to use funds on fences and walls.

On the emergency construction authority Trump used in declaring an emergency, the NDAA would place a $100 million cap for domestic uses.

The bill would also modify the authority Trump has used to deploy troops. Among the changes are requiring reimbursement from the Department of Homeland Security, certification that there is no effect on readiness and certification that contractors could not be used for the task. Deployed military personnel would also have to be performing tasks within their mission.

Though Republicans have also expressed concern about using military funding for the wall, a summary of committee ranking member Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryPentagon chief denies White House hand in 'war cloud' contract probe U.S. and U.K. divide increases on Iran Republican lawmakers issue dueling letters over Pentagon 'war cloud' contract MORE’s (R-Texas) views of the NDAA called the bill “overly prescriptive with its presumptive ban on construction projects.” The restrictions, the summary argued, could “hamper the recovery of other critical infrastructure.”

Thornberry also blasted the overall $733 billion funding level, saying it does not follow the 3 to 5 percent year-over-year budget growth defense officials have testified is needed. 

“The Budget Control Act set arbitrary and unrealistic spending caps on our military,” Thornberry said in a statement. “Those caps forced the Pentagon into unwise choices, deferring needed training, maintenance and modernization. These choices contributed to a lethal readiness crisis we are only now arresting. I am concerned that by imposing another insufficient and arbitrary topline, the chairman’s mark is forcing those unwise choices once again.”

— This report was updated at 7:24 a.m.