$3.83 billion from Pentagon budget to be diverted for Trump border wall

Clay Curtis
February 14, 2020

The U.S. Defense Department sent Congress a request to shift almost $4 billion from the military budget to pay for a wall on the border with Mexico, a central promise of President Donald Trump's campaign for the White House four years ago and bid this year for a second term.

This is in addition to more than $11 billion that's already been identified to construct roughly 500 miles of new barriers along the southern US border with Mexico.

Bob Salesses, the deputy assistant defense secretary, told reporters on Thursday that the funds are meant to help build 30-foot fencing on federally-controlled land in six border areas: San Diego and El Centro, California; Yuma and Tuscon, Arizona, and El Paso and Del Rio, Texas.

The move comes as President Donald Trump extended the national emergency declaration on the US-Mexico border for another year, according to a notice submitted to the Federal Register (pdf) on Thursday.

In the case of the F-35, for instance, the Pentagon said "current funding is more than sufficient to keep the current production line open and meet requirements".

Then, $2.5 billion was shifted in to the counter-narcotics fund and an additional $3.6 billion was diverted from existing military construction projects to help pay for the border wall - funding known as section 2808. And he has used various transfer and emergency authorities to shift nearly $7 billion more from the emergency declaration, a forfeiture fund containing money seized by law enforcement, and funding for military counter-drug activities.

The Pentagon informed Congress on Thursday of its plans to divert the $3.8 billion from the purchase of aircraft and other equipment and instead use the funds for the construction of border barriers.

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Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, accused the president of being "obsessed with fulfilling a campaign promise" while accusing the administration in a tweet of "stealing billions" from the Department of Defense.

"[This] undermines the principle of civilian control of the military and is in violation of the separation of powers within the Constitution", Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said in a prepared statement Thursday. Esper approved a portion of that.

Some details: The money will be moved from procurement accounts to the drug interdiction accounts the Pentagon tapped previous year for border projects.

While no decisions have been made about additional funds being used from other military construction projects, Salesses confirmed that there are ongoing discussions about the possibility. This money also includes $650 million for Landing Helicopter Assault ship funding and two C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft.

In response to the news, several congressional members on Capitol Hill are decrying the move as unconstitutional and unsafe. That budget contains a $2 billion request for the wall, less than Trump asked for past year, which reflects the fact that Trump has more money for the wall than can be spent immediately. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Senate Appropriations Committee vice chairman, said. This year, by targeting spending for weapons, his proposal drew even more opposition in Congress, from lawmakers in both parties who guard such defense contracts for their job-creation benefits as much as for national security.

Congressional Democrats, who opposed Trump's past diversion of billions of dollars in military spending to the border wall project, said the decision was unsafe and misguided.

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