WASHINGTON — After the Pentagon this week released hundreds of pages of funding requests for fiscal 2020, Democrats on Capitol Hill are demanding more information about what military construction projects this year will be disrupted by President Donald Trump’s controversial border wall plans.
For the last month, Democrats in Congress have been pushing for greater detail on how Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency on immigration and use military construction money for his wall may affect readiness.
Now with the administration’s release of next year’s military budget, those lawmakers are accusing Pentagon leaders of deliberately hiding those funding details from the public even as they ask for a massive increase in appropriations next year.
“The Pentagon has to come clean with the winners and the losers in this process,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. and the second-ranking Democrat in the chamber.
“We estimate the military could be forced to delay 20 percent of military construction projects to generate the money the president is asking for … At risk are nearly 400 projects in 43 states.”
Nearly one month ago, Trump announced he was declaring a national emergency on immigration in order to shift around billions in funding for his southern border wall project, after lawmakers failed to provide the money through the normal appropriations process.
Part of his plan to amass more than $8 billion for the wall is to tap about $3.6 billion in military construction funding that has been awarded by lawmakers but not yet obligated by defense officials.
Democrats on Capitol Hill have repeatedly decried the plan as undermining congressional budget authorities for a political priorities.
“It will hurt military families, it will hurt military funding, it will hurt our troops, it will hurt democracy,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii and the top Democrat on the chamber’s panel handling military construction appropriations. “Congress trusts that when the military asks for money, it’s because they need it. That trust may fray now.”
Earlier this month, the House voted to vacate the emergency declaration. The Senate is expected to take up the issue in coming days.
Last week, in a letter to acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, a group of House Democrats demanded that the military turn over a list of construction project categories which could be targeted in the funding shift.
On Tuesday, a group of Senate Democrats lead by Durbin sent a letter asking for a list of projects deemed “too valuable to be used to pay for the wall,” in order to provide insight into how decisions are being made.
Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., said he believes that military leaders already have a good idea of which projects will be hurt by the move. “If they don’t, they should be criticized for being incompetent,” he said.
Reed said officials are likely waiting on congressional and court challenges to the emergency declaration before releasing any of that information. But doing so violates the transparency that military leaders are supposed to have with Congress and undermines the relationship between the executive and military branches, he said.
Defense officials have said they will not target programs that compromise military “lethality” but have declined to name specific projects. In the fiscal 2020 budget request, the administration is seeking another $8 billion in wall funding, which would also impact Defense Department spending.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.