The Magic 8-Ball says … doubtful. The Defense Department told Congress yesterday that Donald Trump’s deferral of current military funding to build the border wall won’t have any impact on readiness. That is, it won’t as long as Congress replaces those funds in the next budget.
Does anyone see the problem here?
Pentagon officials are telling lawmakers that diverting dollars from defense projects to build President Donald Trump’s desired border wall is justified and won’t weaken the military — so long as Congress replenishes the accounts Trump could tap to build the wall.
“Some current military construction projects may be deferred” if military construction money is used to pay for the wall, Robert H. McMahon, assistant secretary of Defense for sustainment, told the House Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday. “The fiscal year 2020 president’s budget request will include a request for funds to replenish funding for these projects.”
In other words, Trump is betting on Congress to replenish those accounts in the fiscal 2020 spending bill.
In other other words, Trump wants Congress to provide his border-wall funding through the back door. In other other other words, the Trump administration is playing House Democrats for chumps. That, actually, is the precise word Debbie Wasserman Schultz used in responding to McMahon:
Wasserman Schultz called McMahon’s claims “verbal gymnastics,” and she said such a move to back fill funds was an attempt to circumvent Congress.
“Mr. Secretary, you’re fooling no one, really. I’m not sure what kind of chumps you think my colleagues and I are,” she said. “You are taking money from vital projects that the military previously said were essential and spending that money on a wall and then asking for the money to be back filled …when we already had that debate and the president’s proposal was rejected.”
Well, not big enough chumps to have missed the *ahem* subtlety of the attempt. However, Wasserman Schultz and other Democrats seized on McMahon’s testimony to bolster their own political argument against the emergency declaration. Shuffling the money around makes the US less safe by draining the Pentagon of funds for true national-security efforts, she claimed.
Tim Ryan (D-OH) asked McMahon whether this would be the only time this trick was played, to which McMahon said … dunno:
Under questioning during Wednesday’s hearing, McMahon said he couldn’t guarantee he wouldn’t be back before the panel next year for the same national emergency.
“So, what the hell are we here for?” Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, asked. “I don’t think anybody in this town is going to think that this president is going to stop with this particular circumstance. I don’t think Democrats or Republicans – they may not say it in front of the microphone – but no one thinks he’s going to stop here. And that’s a problem.”
Let’s just say that the Pentagon had better not count on getting the cash back in FY2020. However, let’s also not forget that the Pentagon got an unexpected boost in funding of $17 billion over its request in FY2019, an appropriation passed long before the shutdown that involved the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Justice, and other agencies. The year-on-year increase for the DoD in this budget was twice that at $34 billion. The Trump administration, which had adamantly demanded to cut military spending in this cycle until then, likely boosted Pentagon funding in anticipation of having to use the money to build the border wall.
In other³ words, Congress already got played for chumps, assuming the courts don’t stop the emergency-declaration reshuffle of funds. To quote the Who, they won’t get fooled again, but Trump got what he wanted when the Pentagon got its last budget.