Democratic lawmakers suggested there would be consequences for the Pentagon if it moves forward with its plan to reallocate $1 billion for border wall construction.
The Pentagon on Monday informed Congress that it has authorized $1 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers for new border walls on the U.S.-Mexico border. The money will pay for 57 miles of 18-foot-high pedestrian fencing, lighting and road construction along parts the Texas and Arizona border. The Department of Defense — which justified the shift under President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration at the southern border — obtained the funds from the Army after it missed recruitment targets and longer needed the money.
However, Democrats are crying foul, arguing that the Pentagon must seek their approval from Congress before arbitrarily changing their budget.
“We strongly object to both the substance of the funding transfer, and to the Department implementing the transfer without seeking the approval of the congressional defense committees and in violation of provisions in the defense appropriation itself,” read a letter signed by ten different Democratic senators and sent to acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan.
The Pentagon – through a procedure known as reprogramming authority – has the legal authority to move money from one program to another in its budget, but it’s customary for it to seek a green light from Congress before doing so. Critics are warning that if the Department of Defense moves forward with its new wall funding, this privilege could be soon revoked.
“You are not asking for our permission,” Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith said to Shanahan during a Tuesday hearing. “Now you understand the result of that likely is that the appropriations committee will no longer give the Pentagon reprogramming authority.”
The congressional backlash has become partisan, with GOP Rep. Mac Thornberry, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, agreed with Smith that “changing decades as reprogramming practice” would result in consequences for the government.
Shanahan, however, defended the move during the committee hearing, saying that the Trump administration overruled the Pentagon regarding the $1 billion for wall construction.
The debate over the Department of Defense funding is the latest fight between Democrats and the White House over border wall funding. After Trump declared a national emergency, allowing him to shore up some $8 billion in extra funding for wall construction, Democrats and other critics have tried to block the move.
House Democrats on Tuesday failed to override a veto of a resolution that would’ve nullified the emergency crisis. However, a number of Democrats and progressive groups have sued the president’s declaration in court, and those cases have yet to be decided.
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