Commentary: U.S. Senator Tom Udall, along with every Democratic member of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, slammed the White House and Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan for their plan for an additional unauthorized transfer of $1.5 billion in important national security funds in order to build part of President Donald Trump’s wall along the southern border.
The newly announced raid of $1.5 billion in military funds for the wall appears to be intended for new construction in California and Arizona, including portions that are 5 miles west of the Arizona-New Mexico state line — even though it was not approved by Congress and could hurt military readiness. In March, the Trump administration announced plans to raid $1 billion in military personnel funding and spend it on border wall construction, including 46 miles worth of new wall along New Mexico's border. After months of debate, including a 35 day government shutdown, Congress passed, and the president signed, a tough-fought compromise that included just $1.375 for border barrier construction, rejecting the president’s demand for over $5 billion in funding. Since then the president has gone outside the law and the Constitution to raid military funding in an attempt to fund portions of his border wall that Congress refused to fund.
Udall issued the following statement regarding the new attempt to raid $1.5 billion in Department of Defense (DOD) appropriations to fund President Trump’s wall along the southern border:
“Once again, the Trump administration is making an end run around Congress and the Constitution to raid critical military funds for a wasteful and ineffective border wall. Instead of treating the Department of Defense like a piggy bank for a political vanity project that won’t keep us safer, the president should focus on helping our military fulfill its essential missions.”
“These actions demonstrate yet again that the president is playing politics with our military budget and putting his border wall ahead of the safety of our country and our service members. As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I’m committed to standing up for our readiness needs and opposing these unlawful funding raids at every turn. And as a border state senator, I continue to urge the administration to work with both parties -- rather than violating Congressional directives – in order to make smart investments in border security, including at our ports of entry, and address the root causes of migration and the humanitarian challenges at the border through engagement with Central American countries.”
In a letter to Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Udall and the senators expressed concern that this reprogramming comes at the expense of the readiness of the Armed Forces. This is the second time in two months that the administration and the Defense Department have used this unilateral process to bypass Congress.
“Once again, the Department of Defense has ignored decades of precedent and cooperation with the Congress in carrying out a transfer of funds without regard to any consultation with the Appropriations Committee,” the senators wrote. “We are dismayed that the Department has chosen to prioritize a political campaign promise over the disaster relief needs of our service members, given the finite reprogramming authority available.”
In addition to Udall, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).
In March, the Defense Department sent Congress a list of more than $10 billion worth of military construction projects around the country and the world that are at risk of being delayed or cancelled in order to pay for President Trump’s border wall, including several New Mexico projects.
Earlier this year, Udall and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced the RAIDER Act of 2019 to prevent the president from using any funds already appropriated by Congress to construct his wall along the southern border without specific statutory authorization from Congress.
The full text of the letter is available here and below.
Dear Secretary Shanahan,
We are writing in opposition to the $1.5 billion reprogramming for additional border wall that has been delivered to the congressional defense committees. Once again, the Department of Defense has ignored decades of precedent and cooperation with the Congress in carrying out a transfer of funds without regard to any consultation with the Appropriations Committee.
In addition to the unilateral process being used for the second time in two months, we have concerns that this reprogramming comes at the expense of the readiness of the Armed Forces. Last week, the Secretary of the Air Force announced that cleanup operations at Tyndall Air Force Base were being impacted by a shortfall in funding. We are dismayed that the Department has chosen to prioritize a political campaign promise over the disaster relief needs of our service members, given the finite reprogramming authority available. We remind you that we continue to work diligently on a supplemental appropriations bill that will provide relief to all Americans impacted by natural disasters, despite the fact that the President of the United States has requested no emergency funding to address the current needs for hurricane and flood relief.
Finally, we note that the decision to notify us of the reprogramming comes the day after you testified before the Subcommittee on Defense, and hours after the announcement of the President’s intent to nominate you to be Secretary of Defense. We look forward to hearing your views on how you intend to repair the damaged relationship between the defense oversight committees and the Department.