The Defense Department is reportedly considering reprogramming $1 billion in money Congress appropriated for military service members’ salaries and pensions to be used to help construct President Trump’s proposed border wall, in an apparent effort to try to win over Republican senators worried about the loss of military construction projects in their states.
On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan informed Senate appropriators of the idea in a meeting that morning, and described the funds as “leftover” money, due to declines in recruitment and fewer than expected service members opting into an early retirement program.
After Trump failed to receive the $5.6 billion he demanded for a wall following a 35-day partial government shutdown, he declared a national emergency, which allows him to divert money from the Army Corps of Engineers and other sources to build the wall.
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The administration plans to use a mix of funds from the Defense Department’s drug interdiction program and the military construction budget to build the wall, the latter of which has upset some Republican lawmakers, who fear the effort could delay or cancel planned construction projects in their states.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Defense, told the AP about the plan, noting it could be part of an effort to minimize the use of Defense Department construction funds in building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, thereby assuaging GOP senators’ concerns ahead of a vote over whether to disapprove of the emergency declaration. A majority of senators are expected to vote against the declaration, although not enough to survive a presidential veto.
“Imagine the Democrats making that proposal—that for whatever our project is, we’re going to cut military pay and pensions,” Durbin told the AP.
A Defense Department spokesperson told Government Executive any proposals that may have come up in Shanahan’s meeting with senators were “predecisional” in nature. Spokespeople for Durbin and Senate Appropriations Committee Democrats did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
It is not clear whether the Defense Department can reprogram the money for salaries and retirement without congressional approval, or whether merely notifying lawmakers of the decision would suffice. More than a dozen states have already filed a lawsuit challenging Trump’s emergency declaration.