Defense spending bill would make Pentagon return unspent money taken for border wall
A defense spending bill written by House Democrats aims to reverse President Trump’s move earlier this year to take $3.8 billion from weapons programs and other Pentagon accounts to use on his U.S.-Mexico border wall.
The House Appropriations Committee’s version of the fiscal 2021 defense appropriations bill would require that the Defense Department put money it transferred in February back into its original accounts if it hasn’t been spent by the time the bill becomes law, according to text released by the committee Tuesday.
The provision is one of several in the bill that takes aim at Trump’s reliance on Pentagon funding to build his border wall.
“We have the most capable and advanced military in the world, and this bill honors their mission by adequately funding programs to care for servicemembers and their families, and by including provisions to end the Trump administration’s theft of defense funds to pay for a wasteful border wall,” committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.
The $694.6 billion Pentagon spending bill would cover $626.2 billion in base budget funding and $68.4 billion in a war fund known as the overseas contingency operations (OCO) account.
The money would go toward a 3 percent pay raise for troops, 91 F-35 fighter jets, nine new Navy ships and $758 million to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on subcontractors in the defense industrial base, among other big-ticket items.
But it’s the border wall that has become a perennial fight in defense and spending bills throughout Trump’s tenure.
In February, the Pentagon notified lawmakers it would take $3.8 billion from accounts such as the F-35 program, shipbuilding programs and equipment for the National Guard and reserves, and put the money into its counterdrug fund to use for the border wall.
That came on top of the Pentagon last year transferring $2.5 billion from various accounts into the counterdrug fund for the wall as well Trump taking $3.6 billion from military construction funding.
The moves have infuriated Democrats and a few Republicans who say Trump is ignoring Congress’s power of the purse.
To address February’s transfer, House Democrats’ defense spending bill would require that “funds made available to the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2020 that were transferred by such Department on February 13, 2020, and remain unobligated as of the date of the enactment of this Act shall be returned to the original account or accounts and may not be used for any purpose other than the original purposes for which they were appropriated by the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2020.”
The bill would also broadly prohibit the use of Pentagon funding on a barrier on the southern border.
It would also cap the amount of money the Pentagon can transfer between accounts at $1.9 billion, down from the $9.5 billion transfer authority the department requested, in response to what a Democratic summary of the bill describes as the Pentagon’s “abuse of congressionally granted reprogramming privileges.”
The bill also targets Trump’s deployment of U.S. troops to the southern border by blocking funding for such deployments unless the Pentagon is reimbursed by another government agency. The Pentagon recently extended the deployment through September 2021 but cut the number of troops from roughly 5,500 to 4,000.
The Appropriations Committee’s defense subpanel is scheduled to consider the bill behind closed doors Wednesday.
The defense spending bill is one of several House Democrats are using to target Trump’s border wall. A separate spending bill that covers military construction would prohibit military construction funding from going to the wall, while the Department of Homeland Security spending bill would prohibit construction of a border wall.
Still, the language faces an uphill battle to becoming law. Last year’s House versions of spending bills would have similarly blocked funding for a border wall, but the bans did not survive negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate and White House.
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