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In our current political environment of zero-sum politics, for every winner there is a corresponding loser; for every dollar spent on any particular government program or project, there is a dollar not spent on another government program or project.
The Constitution placed not only the responsibility to appropriate money to be spent on government programs, but the responsibility to actually spend the money, with the executive branch, also known as the president.
A while ago on the South Lawn of the White House, as I have mentioned in previous columns, I did pose the question to the president “Which Department of Defense programs or project would go unfunded if money is reprogrammed to pay for your wall under a declaration of a national emergency?”
The response from Trump was “there’s plenty of money!” That response, of course, did not answer the question asked, but we are now at the point where we are at least getting a glimpse of what money is being moved to pay for his wall and, as a result, what government programs will feel the pinch of lost appropriations.
In late February, the White House provided a document that identified nearly $8.1 billion that the administration considers available for that wall. In addition to the $1.375 billion already appropriated by Congress, the administration claims that it has access to $3.1 billion under other statutory authorities and $3.6 billion in military construction funds available under a national emergency.
The issue of whether there is a true national emergency, as intended under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, and whether that Act was intended to be used to circumvent Congress to appropriate funding is currently the subject of much debate.
Clearly, the Act was designed to provide the president with emergency funding when the emergency was so immediate that it did not allow for going through the usual appropriations process with Congress. It certainly was not intended to find funding that Congress had already NOT appropriated through the regular appropriations process.
However, rather than focus on that aspect of the debate, I would like to take a closer look at what initiatives will see less money as a result of reallocating funds to pay for a campaign promise of a wall across the entire southern border that will do very little to stem the tide of Central Americans seeking asylum or, as is often misrepresented, the smuggling of illegal drugs.
According to the White House, $601 million of the $3.1 billion claimed by the president under the non-emergency statutory authority will come from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund in two installments. The amount of $242 million will be made available immediately, and $359 million will come from future anticipated forfeitures.
What is the Forfeiture Fund, you ask?
Basically, when law enforcement agencies combine efforts to solve crimes and prosecute those responsible for the crimes successfully, the agencies share in the forfeiture of the ill-gotten gains of the criminal.
See Paul Manafort and his loss of his real estate holdings for an example. That is money used by these law enforcement agencies to supplement their budgets. So much for Trump portraying himself as the “law enforcement president.”
Also, according to the White House, up to $2.5 billion will be available from the Department of Defense funds that will be “transferred to its FY 2019 Drug Interdiction and Counter-Drug Activities account.” The construction to support counter-drug activities, it is noted, will be used on land already owned by the federal government.
I suspect that might make land not owned by the federal government more vulnerable, but that would only be if illegal drugs were smuggled between ports (not points, Mr. President) of entry rather than through ports of entry which is actually through which they are routinely smuggled and for which a border wall does little to prevent.
On the issue of drug smuggling, let me clarify.
The reason a wall will do little to stop drug smuggling is because the goal of the drug smuggler is not to just get to the other side of the border.
That is the goal of refugees seeking asylum. The purpose of the drug smuggler is to penetrate into the United States.
By successfully smuggling the drugs through the port of entry, the smugglers now have free rein until the cargo container, of which literally thousands cross the southern border every day through ports such as Otay Mesa in California and Nogales in Arizona and Brownsville in Texas. All the many other ports along the border reach the port of destination which could be anywhere in the United States from Newark, New Jersey to Long Beach, California and all points in between.
Also according to the White House, the “national emergency declaration authorizes the Department of Defense to undertake certain military construction projects using up to $3.6 billion in unobligated military construction funding.” The White House adds the disclaimer that “DOD will ensure that high-priority projects with national security implications remain funded and family housing projects will also remain funded.” The White House goes on to state that “the administration will ask Congress for new military construction funding for the existing projects affected by this so that no projects will be canceled – only delayed.”
Let me see if I understand this last piece of the administration strategy correctly, specifically as it relates to zero-sum. The administration, to circumvent Congress’ rejection of full border wall funding, reallocates other funding and now will go back to Congress and request “new military construction funding for existing projects affected by this…” circumvention of Congress. The likelihood of Nancy Pelosi, “or as I call her, Nancy,” falling for this ploy is as likely as her caving in on the next government shutdown created by Trump when he doesn’t get his way and wants to hold the American people and their government hostage again.