McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Three congressmen from South Texas expressed outrage Tuesday over a report that President Donald Trump is planning to divert an additional $7.2 billion in military funding for his border wall.
The Washington Post reported Monday night that Trump this year plans to transfer $7.2 billion from Pentagon funds, which is five times the amount Congress has appropriated for border wall construction in the 2020 fiscal budget.
On Tuesday, U.S. Reps. Filemon Vela, Vicente Gonzalez, and Henry Cuellar, all Democrats who represent South Texas border towns where border walls are planned, questioned Trump’s authority to shift funds that have been appropriated for military use for a wall, which they say militarizes the border.
They also said that the diversion of money puts the United States military at risk.
“The president’s latest unconstitutional maneuver — the pilfering of military construction and counter-narcotic accounts — is a waste of money and will continue to damage our military’s readiness. The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse and the Executive can’t simply make up excuses to take additional funds for the border wall. Diverting money from military accounts will not only have a negative impact on the quality of life for our service members at installations around the world but will be at the direct expense of our military training and operations,” Vela told Border Report on Tuesday.
Vela represents a vast area of South Texas that includes Cameron and Hidalgo counties and the towns of Brownsville and Donna. The government is currently constructing a border wall on a levee off a highway that some say is aptly named Military Highway just south of Donna.
The Donna border wall in Hidalgo County is part of an 8-mile, non-contiguous project that will have large gaps — sometimes for miles — as Congress has exempted several areas from border-wall construction, including the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.
Congress for Fiscal 2019 appropriated $1.375 billion for a wall on the Southwest border, but lawmakers exempted Santa Ana; Bentsen State Park; La Lomita Chapel; the Vista del Mar Ranch tract of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge; and the National Butterfly Center in Mission, which is about 20 miles west of where the Donna wall is going up.
For Fiscal 2020, Congress also appropriated $1.375 billion for border wall construction, but the Post article says Trump did not feel that was enough money for his signature campaign promise and is diverting military funds to ensure more miles are built.
The Post reported that the funds will be taken from military construction projects and counter-narcotics funding, and would give the government enough money to complete about 885 miles of new fencing by spring 2022. The administration has slated 509 miles to be completed by the end of this year along the U.S. border with Mexico
In 2019, Trump took $2.5 billion from military counter-drug programs for border wall construction but this year his administration is planning to take significantly more — $3.5 billion. Trump administration officials also are planning to take $3.7 billion in military construction funding, slightly more than the $3.6 billion diverted in 2019, the Post reported.
“We cannot allow the administration to pull funding from critical military projects that meet our strategic military needs as well as support the well-being of our military members and their families,” Cuellar said. “As a member of the Defense Subcommittee on Appropriations, I worked hard to create a spending bill that ensures our military readiness. Reallocating $3.5 billion from our counter-narcotic program and $3.7 billion from military construction will intensify the country’s opioid epidemic and hurt our ability to repair and rebuild our military.”
Cuellar, who is the only Texas Democrat on the powerful U.S. House Appropriations Committee, and serves on the Defense Subcommittee, said the “reprogramming” and “un-awarding” of $3.6 billion last summer by the Trump administration impacted virtually every state and many towns, including many in Texas that lost vital funds earmarked for military needs. This included a $375 million reallocation from projects at Joint Base San Antonio.
“Bottom line, the administration’s decision will weaken our national security, hurt the quality of life of our military and their families, and undermine Congress’ constitutional authority in determining spending priorities. I will continue to fight this diversion of funds and this ineffective, vastly expensive border wall,” Cuellar said.
“The president’s plan to weaken our military and siphon off counter-narcotic funding to fulfill an egotistical campaign promise of building a border wall does nothing but waste taxpayer dollars and cripple other critical national security programs. The taxpayer dollars that this administration plans to waste could have fixed the Flint water crisis 132 times and paid off school loan debt for roughly 241,600 students. We should be investing these funds into things that the American people need not an ineffective, useless border wall,” Gonzalez said.