- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Lawmakers again expressed anger and frustration at the news that the White House again will be tapping the Pentagon’s budget to pay for President Trump’s long promised border wall.

The administration plans to redirect some $7.2 billion in Defense Department money earmarked for construction, health and other military programs for wall construction.

“I wish they’d get the money somewhere else, instead of defense,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, told reporters Tuesday. Mr. Shelby also heads the panel’s subcommittee on defense.

He explained that while he supports building the wall and “funding money directly,” Mr. Shelby said “nobody should be too surprised” that Mr. Trump seeks to divert the funds given the wall’s importance to his immigration agenda.

The administration is seeking to redirect funds from the Pentagon’s military construction and anti-drug smuggling accounts, according to internal planning figures obtained by The Washington Post.

If the plan were to be executed, the money would cover the completion of roughly 885 miles of new fencing on the wall within the next two years.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper, asked about the switch, told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday, “The first priority of the [Defense Department] is protection of the homeland. The southwestern border is a security issue. We remain committed to supporting Homeland Security in its mission.”

While the funds shift has created a budgeting problem for the Pentagon and some ill will among congressional committees, “if that’s what it takes, we are prepared to support it,” Mr. Esper said.

House Democrats repeatedly blocked Mr. Trump’s request for $5 billion to spend on his border wall in 2020 — a move that sent the government into a 35-day shutdown, the longest in U.S. history. Democrats ultimately compromised on $1.375 billion for the project that was included in the recently approved spending bill.

Mr. Trump later declared a national emergency to obtain the additional funds by bypassing Congress, sparking fury among lawmakers who vowed to block the use of Pentagon accounts to fund the wall project.

In a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday, Brian S. Hastings, the chief of law enforcement operations for the U.S. Border Patrol, said the border wall is effective and told the panel, “We need border wall, I can tell you that.”

Democrats were particularly vocal in blasting the White House’s wall-funding plan.

Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the appropriations panel, said in a statement that it “would be an understatement” to call the move “unacceptable and infuriating.”

“Once again the president continues to abuse the separation of powers in our Constitution,” Mr. Leahy added, arguing that congressional Republicans should also step up to oppose the president.

The reallocation of the funds “will make Americans less safe, burden more military families, and do further violence to the constitutional separation of powers that are inherent to our democracy,” according to a letter Tuesday from House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey and other Democrats on the House panel.

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