Now that the formal White House press briefings have almost been eliminated, the south lawn of the White House before President Donald Trump takes off via helicopter for Joint Base Andrews has become the primary location to field questions from the White House press corps. Reporters ask questions while the helicopter blades are spinning as noisily as possible.
Just a few months back, before the current occupant of the White House formally declared a national emergency regarding funding for his border wall dream, I was able to ask a rather pertinent question on that very topic.
My question to the President of the United States was: “If you do decide to declare a national emergency to build your border wall, which Department of Defense already funded, programs will be impacted as you move appropriated money to pay for that wall?”
His response to that question was short and sweet. His answer: “There is plenty of money.”
I found this answer to be quite astounding since “plenty of money” would bring into question the validity of various aspects of any budget requests from the Department of Defense. I shared this disturbing response from our president with as many legislators as I could find from Senator Mazie Hirona of Hawaii to our own Congressman Jamie Raskin. I wondered whether this statement by the president would have any impact on future budget requests from the Department of Defense.
Specifically, I asked whether the House Appropriations Committee would even consider any future budget requests by the Department of Defense to replenish the money for previously funded projects which were moved for the border wall?
It should be noted that the Constitution is quite clear on where the appropriations and responsibility lies. It lies with Congress. Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 of the Constitution, commonly referred to as the “Appropriations Clause,” reads as follows: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.” This clause provides Congress with the mechanism to control or limit spending by the federal government.
Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 provides the source of Congress’ power to spend. It reads: “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States…”
Trump used the powers provided in the National Emergencies Act of 1976 to justify circumventing the will and authority of Congress to move previously appropriated money to provide funding for building a wall, which was not appropriated by Congress.
The purpose of the National Emergencies Act of 1976 was to enable a president to provide funding for a real emergency that was occurring in real-time and did not allow for the usual appropriations process to take place.
It was certainly not intended to circumvent the formal appropriations process to fund a project that will take years, if not decades, to complete and for which specific funding by Congress was not approved.
Now for the aftermath: Which Department of Defense programs or projects will lose at least some portion of their previously approved funding? The list is quite extensive; more than 120 such military programs and projects across the nation at the cost of more than $3.6 billion.
These funds were appropriated by Congress to go toward a whole array of projects, including upgrading military bases across the globe and upgrading facilities for military families and military academies. It also included projects to upgrade a ship repair facility and a cyber operations facility as well as a hazardous waste clean-up operation.
However, I will focus just on Maryland. Included are the Maryland military projects from which millions of dollars have been averted to pay for a campaign promised border wall, which will be quite ineffective, in achieving its intended purpose, courtesy of Senator Chris Van Hollen:
Joint Base Andrews
Project: PAR Relocate Haz Cargo Pad and EOD Range.
Funds reallocated: $37,000,000.
Project: Child Development Center.
Funds reallocated: $13,000,000.
Project: Cantonment Area Roads.
Funds reallocated: $16,500,000.
Total Maryland Funds Reallocated: $66.5 million from just three Maryland projects.
Now consider the impact across the entire nation of diverting some $3.6 billion in Congressionally appropriated defense dollars. Now think what “America first” and a strong military really means to this president.