WASHINGTON, D.C. — The House Armed Services Committee is considering clawing back into the Pentagon the money for shipbuilding and aircraft President Donald Trump is redirecting this year to fund border barrier construction.
During the past week, representatives from both sides of the aisle stated they were uneasy with the way $3.8 billion approved to fund specific Department of Defense programs in Fiscal Year 2020 was instead taken by the administration to pay for a project outside the department
Under the plan sending Pentagon money to build a wall, the Navy is set to lose $650 million to pay for early procurement material for the yet-to-be-named amphibious assault ship LHA-9, $261 million for a new Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport ship, $233 million for two F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters and $155 million for one P-8A anti-submarine warfare aircraft.
Last week, following two days of testimony by the Pentagon and Navy’s top leaders before the HASC, Rep. Adam Smith, (D-Wash.), the committee chair told reporters he was considering a bill focused on returning to the Pentagon any funding redirected to border barrier with Mexico, but without necessarily making a statement about barrier construction.
“We’re going to try to claw that back and say you shouldn’t say that money,” Smith said. “There was bipartisan support for the idea that we ought to do this and I’m going to try to work off that bipartisan support.”
On Monday, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the HASC ranking member, reaffirmed his support for building physical barriers along the southern border but said he was not pleased with how the current administration is going about funding the wall.
“What I do not support is any administration that would take a bill that is signed into law and as they choose just move money around for whatever purpose,” Thornberry said during an appearance at the Brookings Institution.
The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to fund the military and set priorities, Thornberry said. During the HASC hearings last week, Pentagon leaders told lawmakers the money sent to DHS for wall construction was excess funding for FY 2020, Thornberry said. “Well, that’s not their choice.”
During the HASC hearings, Rep. Trent Kelly, (R-Miss.) repeatedly stated he supports building a wall along the southern border but is troubled by the reprogramming and specifically what taking money from the Pentagon will do to shipbuilding and equipping the Army National Guard. Kelly is a Brigadier General in the Mississippi Army National Guard.
“$650 million was diverted from an LHA America-class amphibious ship which is built by Huntington Ingalls, a massive shipbuilder in Mississippi,” Kelly said. “The impact that will be felt will be a loss of jobs and it will hurt the industrial shipbuilding base.”
When Congress yanks funding from a program, even if the money is restored a year later, Kelly said the shipbuilders are left scrambling to resume production.
“If they’re geared up and tooled up to build a ship and we change the plans, they can’t just next year, when we change back, get back to the same spot because they’ve lost that,” Kelly said. “Those guys and girls are working somewhere else, and we can’t rebuild it.”
Smith, when talking to reporters, said the administration’s developed a troubling trend of raiding the Pentagon to pay for a project that wasn’t otherwise funded. During FY 2019, the President used defense funding for border wall construction. Smith said there’s not much Congress can do about that money.
The FY 2020 money was shifted in the reprogramming process, Smith said, and members are concerned more money will be taken from military construction projects. Smith conceded he does not know with any certainty whether a bill haling the administration’s funding reprogramming would pass the Republican-controlled Senate.
“It is possible,” Smith said. “I certainly wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it, but it is possible.
This should be a bipartisan issue.”
If Congress doesn’t take action, Thornberry worries about the bad precedent Congress sets, diminishing its Constitutional mandate to direct all government spending priorities, now and in the future.
“I mean, it scares me to death what President Bernie Sanders is going to do with some authority like that if we don’t stand up and say no, you can’t do that,” Thornberry said.