February 13, 2020

Udall, Senate Democrats on Appropriations Committee Raise Alarm on Trump Administration’s Unconstitutional Raid of Military Funds to Pay for Border Wall

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), senior member of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, joined all committee Democrats to condemn the Trump administration’s transfer of $.3.8 billion in congressionally-appropriated military funds to pay for President Donald Trump’s border wall. The reprogramming takes much-needed funds from the men and women of the National Guard, in addition to a variety of defense programs funded by Congress, to address critical equipment shortfalls identified by military leadership. 

The latest action by the Trump administration continues the president’s violation of the separation of powers, subversion congressional appropriations laws, and abuses of the National Emergencies Act in an unprecedented way to divert money from the Department of Defense to border wall construction for political purposes.

In 2019, unauthorized funding for the border wall was pulled from military construction projects including $85 million from a project at Holloman Air Force Base and $40 million from a project at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) and a variety of other defense accounts including personnel and counter narcotics funding. The new additional funding would be raided from accounts for aircraft, ships, and National Guard and Reserve equipment.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the senators called out this ongoing scheme as not only divisive, but poisonous to the relationship they seek on national defense matters – which should be above partisanship – and harmful to our national security.  

This is the third time in less than one year that the Defense Department has used a unilateral process to bypass Congress at the president’s direction. 

“This transfer notification is being made merely weeks after the President signed the defense appropriations bill into law. As was the case last year, the Department of Defense did not request, and the Congress did not provide, any defense funds for border wall construction,” the senators wrote. “This repeated maneuver to transfer funds once again is in contrast to the long-established processes involving consultation with the defense oversight committees of Congress on reprogrammings and transfers. Engaging in this scheme again is not only divisive, but also poisonous to the relationship we seek on national defense matters – which should be above this type of rancor and partisanship.

“We are dismayed that the Department decided to target congressional increases to a vast number of critical programs, from aircraft to ships, including the perennially-underfunded Army National Guard, Air National Guard, and other Reserve Components,” the senators continued. “In particular, Congress provided $1.3 billion to the National Guard and Reserve Equipment (NGRE) account after the President’s budget request asked for nothing in this vital appropriation.  The NGRE account has been the lifeline of modernization for the National Guard and Reserves, both for warfighting missions and domestic contingencies. The same can be said of many of the other programs targeted.” 

The senators underscored, “The raid on this funding is quite simply an attack on the efforts to ensure our citizen-soldiers are prepared to respond to disasters, both overseas and in nearly every community in all fifty states and four territories.”

Udall is the lead sponsor of a bipartisan resolution to terminate the president’s national emergency declaration that after passing the Senate and House was vetoed by the president. Udall also co-led an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2020 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill that would have blocked the president from diverting military construction funding to fund the president’s border wall. 

Today’s letter was signed by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.).

The full text of the letter is available here and below:

Dear Secretary Esper:

We write to express our strong opposition to the transfer of $3.8 billion in funds appropriated by Congress to support and benefit our service members, to be used for additional barriers on the Southwest border that were not approved by Congress. 

This transfer notification is being made merely weeks after the President signed the defense appropriations bill into law. As was the case last year, the Department of Defense did not request, and the Congress did not provide, any defense funds for border wall construction. This repeated maneuver to transfer funds once again is in contrast to the long-established processes involving consultation with the defense oversight committees of Congress on reprogrammings and transfers. Engaging in this scheme again is not only divisive, but also poisonous to the relationship we seek on national defense matters – which should be above this type of rancor and partisanship.

We are dismayed that the Department decided to target congressional increases to a vast number of critical programs, from aircraft to ships, including the perennially-underfunded Army National Guard, Air National Guard, and other Reserve Components. In particular, Congress provided $1.3 billion to the National Guard and Reserve Equipment (NGRE) account after the President’s budget request asked for nothing in this vital appropriation. The NGRE account has been the lifeline of modernization for the National Guard and Reserves, both for warfighting missions and domestic contingencies. The same can be said of many of the other programs targeted.

The raid on this funding is quite simply an attack on the efforts to ensure our citizen-soldiers are prepared to respond to disasters, both overseas and in nearly every community in all fifty states and four territories.

We are aware that the President has announced plans to divert $7.2 billion from the Pentagon’s budget in this year alone to pay for his ill-advised and wasteful campaign promise. We expect the Administration to continue this assault on the congressional power of the purse in the coming weeks and months, by implementing additional reprogrammings and cancelling more military construction projects without regard to the views of the Congress. We urge you to bear in mind that Congress has paid for the projects you have cancelled once, and we are under no obligation to pay for them a second time. 

Finally, we are alarmed at the inclusion of Overseas Contingency Operations/Global War on Terrorism funds for additional wall construction. These accounts were created to separate what was supposed to be temporary war-related spending from the routine operations of our Armed Forces, but critics came to call these accounts little more than a slush fund to evade spending caps. This raid on these funding lines puts an end to any pretense that the critics were wrong.

Sincerely,