Democrats on Capitol Hill were quick to respond to the new reprogramming request from the Pentagon, which would divert $3.8 billion in fiscal year 2020 defense appropriations funds to the Trump administration’s border wall project.
House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and HAC-Defense Chairman Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) issued a joint statement Feb. 13 regarding the request, which was sent to Congress that day.
“President Trump is once again disrespecting the separation of powers and endangering our security by raiding military resources to pay for his wasteful border wall,” the statement said. “While some of our Republican colleagues will lament the President’s decision, they enabled this theft by blocking our efforts to stop the President from raiding defense accounts. Until they stand up to President Trump, our national security will continue to be threatened and our Constitutional system of government will continue to be undermined.”
One defense-minded Republican has also spoken out against the request. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), ranking member and former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), issued a statement Thursday saying that while he believes the wall should be funded, it should come from the Department of Homeland Security, rather than defense equipment.
Lawmakers “take the Pentagon’s recommendations seriously during our deliberations, but the final decisions are contained in the bills passed by Congress and signed into law,” Thornberry said. “Once those choices have been made, the Department of Defense cannot change them in pursuit of their own priorities without the approval of Congress. Attempts to do so undermines the principle of civilian control of the military and is in violation of the separation of powers within the Constitution.
“The re-programming announced today is contrary to Congress’s constitutional authority, and I believe that it requires Congress to take action,” Thornberry continued.
HASC Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said in a statement that “It is clear to me, and anyone with experience in national security policy, that a wall on our southern border will do nothing to support our strategic advantage over Russia and China, support counterterrorism, address rogue states, or enhance relations with partners and allies.”
“It’s past time for the administration to align their policy with their rhetoric and focus on the real national security challenges at hand, not the President’s re-election,” he added.
Democrats sitting on the Senate Appropriations Committee issued a letter to Esper Feb. 13, expressing their alarm at the reprogramming request and highlighting in particular the impact on National Guard components.
“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 letter said. “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 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 50 states and four territories,” the lawmakers continued.
Smith also noted in particular that the cuts to the NGRE account are “robbing every state and territory of critical funds specifically added by Congress to address dual-purpose equipment shortfalls – such as fire-fighting, engineering, and communications equipment – to support local authorities for public safety and natural disaster response.”