Why not? It’s open season on the budget after last week’s ruling in the Fifth Circuit, and Donald Trump is on the hunt for more funding for the border wall. The administration will divert $7.2 billion in Pentagon funding this year, much more than the previous year, to add more mileage to the barrier on the frontier with Mexico, according to the Washington Post:
President Trump is preparing to divert an additional $7.2 billion in Pentagon funding for border wall construction this year, five times what Congress authorized him to spend on the project in the 2020 budget, according to internal planning figures obtained by The Washington Post.
The Pentagon funds would be extracted, for the second year in a row, from military construction projects and counternarcotics funding. According to the plans, the funding would give the government enough money to complete about 885 miles of new fencing by spring 2022, far more than the 509 miles the administration has slated for the U.S. border with Mexico.
Trump took $2.5 billion from military counterdrug programs for border barrier construction in 2019, but this year his administration is planning to take significantly more — $3.5 billion. Trump administration officials also are planning to take $3.7 billion in military construction funding, slightly more than the $3.6 billion diverted in 2019.
In case anyone’s counting, that would bring the total funding for the wall — authorized and otherwise — to almost $19 billion over the last two years. Trump at one time demanded $25 billion in authorized funding in exchange for normalization of the DACA program, an offer that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer turned down. Unless Congress comes up with a better argument in federal court, Trump will likely get well past $25 billion if he wins another term while Democrats get nothing in exchange.
Maybe they should have taken the deal, eh?
That’s not to say that this is a healthy status for constitutional operation. Congress has the power of the purse, at least conceptually, as a means to check the power of the executive. It’s all well and good to cheer on a president who delivers on one’s own hobby horses, but what if it was President Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez using Pentagon funds to cap oil wells on federal land and fund coal-mine inspectors to find enough violations to cripple production? I’d guess that the same people cheering Trump’s diversions would suddenly find those diversions to be A Grave Danger To Our Republic. And they’d be right, not just on the actions themselves but also on the implications of a presidency untethered from budgetary restraint.
Perhaps the court might end up agreeing at some point. In both the Fifth Circuit and Supreme Court decision last year, the courts never did get to the merits of the constitutional challenge. They both ruled that the plaintiffs, activist groups in both instances, lacked standing to enforce budget law. If Congress takes the administration to court over this latest diversion, one suspects that at least some appellate jurists might find the argument compelling, and maybe even the Supreme Court’s conservatives might take an interest in re-establishing constitutional norms when it comes to limits on executive authority.
So far, though, House Democrats seem more averse to dealing with the federal judiciary than Republicans. Why haven’t they tried harder to defend their own prerogatives? Are they resigned to allowing Trump to build his wall as long as they don’t have to have their own fingerprints on it?