Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., is the sponsor of the bill.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., is the sponsor of the bill. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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House Democrats Hope to Curb Diversions of Pentagon Spending to Border Wall

Armed Services members’ bill targets Defense Department construction fund transfers.

President Trump’s continuing effort to use executive branch authority to fund a southern border wall prompted House Democrats on Wednesday to introduce a bill to limit the Pentagon’s authority to reprogram military construction funds.

The bill by Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., and key members of the Armed Services Committee was placed in the hopper five days after acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced that he was shifting $1.5 billion appropriated for the war in Afghanistan and other items to help with an 80-mile wall extension. That comes on top of another $1 billion he moved from the Army’s personnel budget in March.

The bill would cap national emergency military construction authority at $250 million and restrict the Pentagon’s power to waive other provisions of the law in pursuing projects, said a statement from Gallego, panel Chairman Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., and Readiness subcommittee Chairman Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif.

The bill would restrict re-purposing of approved spending money to emergencies, require the Defense Department to provide additional information when notifying Congress of transfers, and delay the start of construction until after a waiting period.

“The administration’s willful abuse of power to unilaterally enact misguided policy like building a wall on the southern border is Exhibit A in this administration’s overreach,” Gallego said. “By stealing money from troop recruitment accounts, counter-narcotics efforts, and critical infrastructure, the Trump administration is making our country less safe.” He said his bill would end the Pentagon’s role as a “bottomless piggy bank for the president’s worst political impulses,” and blasted its most recent assignment to do “the Department of Homeland Security’s job.”

Committee Chairman Smith added, “While Congress has for years granted the department the flexibility to carry out military construction projects that support troops responding to a national emergency, such as after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the president’s threat to use military construction funding to build portions of the border wall would be an inappropriate use.” The bill’s goal, he added, is to ensure that use of emergency military construction authority “is transparent, within a reasonable cost range, and most importantly, will only draw from sources of funding that do not hamper existing construction projects or military readiness.”

Garamendi said, “Congress debated the issue of border security for a year-and-a-half and decided to spend $1.2 billion on more effective border security technologies than the president’s vanity wall. This crucial legislation will provide a vital check on the executive branch and prohibit the president from using the MILCON budget and other critical projects as a personal slush fund to fulfill a campaign promise.”

Co-sponsors also include Reps. Salud Carbajal, D-Calif.; Gil Cisneros, D-Calif.; Veronica Escobar, D-Texas; Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M.; Lori Trahan, D-Mass.; and Filemon Vela, D-Texas.

Also on Wednesday, the Homeland Security Department issued two waivers that will allow construction of new bollard wall within the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson and El Centro Sectors in Arizona and California. The projects include up to 78 miles of new bollard wall in place of dilapidated and outdated designs, in addition to road construction and improvement, and lighting installation.

The work will be done with the help of the Defense Department, DHS said, in coordination with Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “These waivers are pursuant to authority granted to the Secretary of Homeland Security by Congress and cover a variety of environmental, natural resource and land management laws,” the DHS release said.