At some point President Biden’s delay in building any significant new sections of border wall will cross the line into being an illegal obstruction, congressional Republicans warned in a letter Tuesday to the White House demanding answers about the stall.
Mr. Biden halted construction more than 500 days ago, making good on his campaign vow that “not another foot” would be built on his watch. His administration insists he hasn’t actually blocked the money Congress approved but is instead figuring out how it should be spent.
That explanation no longer holds water, said Republicans on the House Budget Committee, led by Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri.
“The administration is continuing to willfully ignore congressional intent by withholding the funds that remain unobligated,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter, provided first to The Washington Times. “Further, the continued withholding of these funds with no plan or evidence of expenditure suggests an illegal impoundment and violation of the Impoundment Control Act of 1974.”
That 1974 law, in layman’s terms, requires that if Congress allocates money for a purpose, the administration must spend it that way, though a president has some leeway on timing.
Congress from 2017 to 2020 pumped about $5 billion into the wall-building project. Then-President Donald Trump, demanding more than Congress allocated, then claimed emergency powers to tap about $10 billion in other funds at the Pentagon, shifting the money over to his wall project.
DOCUMENT: Letter to Director Young
Mr. Biden has returned all military money that was unspent at the time he took office, a decision that seems on firm legal footing. But about $2 billion in money Congress did allocate toward the wall was also orphaned in Mr. Biden’s construction halt, and that’s the funding that Republicans say the president must spend.
Instead, the money has sat mostly idle, with the administration saying it is going back to do more environmental studies and consultation with communities where the wall was slated to be built. And the Department of Homeland Security says it is spending some money to close gaps left by the wall halt and to do remediation on places where past wall construction caused problems.
To Mr. Smith and his colleagues, those are suspicious excuses.
They asked White House budget chief Shalanda D. Young to detail the consultations and restorations that have already taken place, including any feedback the administration has received. And they asked for a projected timeline for the consultations to be done.
The Office of Management and Budget did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.
The Government Accountability Office reviewed Mr. Biden’s decision-making last June and said it held up — at least for a while. The administration is allowed to check off procedural boxes, such as completing environmental studies, analysts said.
But the GAO said Congress was within its rights to demand a timeline for obligating the money.
Mr. Smith and his colleagues said the longer the delay lasts, the more the Biden administration runs afoul of the law.
He was part of a trip this month to the border where lawmakers saw portions of $350 million in unused border wall materials, stacked 20 feet high.
“President Biden’s decision to halt wall construction has made it nearly impossible to make even simple repairs to existing barriers, like gating off tunnels being built under the wall by cartels,” the lawmakers wrote.
The wall was Mr. Trump’s most visible promise from the 2016 presidential campaign. Though he fell short on his demand that Mexico pay for the wall, he did erect more than 450 miles, sealing off some new areas, though most of that mileage was an upgrade of old designs and porous existing barriers.