The Defense Department plans to "defer" spending on some military construction projects to fund a wall on the southern border of the United States and then ask Congress to give the money back in next year's budget, a top Pentagon official testified Wednesday.
"I want to assure you that no currently authorized military construction projects will be canceled to fund military construction projects supporting use of the armed forces at the southern border," said Robert McMahon, assistant secretary of defense for sustainment.
"Further, while some current military construction projects may be deferred, the fiscal year 2020 president's budget request will include a request for funds to replenish funding for these [deferred] projects," he said at a hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies.
McMahon, a retired Air Force major general, also sought to assure the subcommittee that no military construction projects for military family housing would be canceled or have their funding rolled over to next year to fund the wall.
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Democrats on the subcommittee said they were in disbelief that the DoD and White House are asking Congress to provide money in the request for the fiscal 2020 budget, which is expected to be submitted next month, for projects that Congress already authorized and appropriated money for this year.
"I'm flabbergasted with this whole enterprise," said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio. If former Presidents Barack Obama or Bill Clinton had made such a proposal, "people would be running around this town with their hair on fire," he said.
"I'm still confused" as to how President Donald Trump could take money already appropriated by Congress and then come back to ask it to "appropriate those funds all over again," said Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii.
Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the subcommittee's chairwoman, said McMahon is suggesting a "backdoor" way to get money for a border wall. She called the wall unnecessary, despite Trump's Feb. 15 declaration of a national emergency at the border due to an "invasion" of undocumented immigrants.
Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr., D-Georgia, said Congress is under no obligation to replenish the funds.
"The president's budget request is not law," he said.
McMahon replied, "You are correct, and we look forward to advocating for what it is we would push for" in the next budget cycle.
Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, the ranking member of the subcommittee, said she backs Trump on the wall and border security, but added that funding should be allocated in a way that "does not impact on our military readiness."
McMahon stressed that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has yet to decide which military construction projects might be targeted for wall funding and is awaiting guidance from the Department of Homeland Security.
He also said that the DoD has been told by the White House that the potential sources of wall funding will be used "sequentially."
In declaring the national emergency, Trump and White House officials said that up to $8.1 billion would be spent on new construction for the wall.
The sources are $1.375 billion included in the bill to end the 35-day partial government shutdown; $600 million from Treasury Department forfeitures; $2.5 billion from military counter-drug operations; and $3.6 billion from military construction projects.
The $1.375 billion approved by Congress would be spent first, then the total of $3.1 billion from counter-drug funds and Treasury Department forfeitures, and then the $3.6 billion from military construction projects, McMahon said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.