Frustrated lawmakers press Pentagon for plan to fund border wall

Frustrated lawmakers press Pentagon for plan to fund border wall

Lawmakers on Wednesday grilled Pentagon officials about the president’s plans to repurpose military construction dollars for his controversial southern border wall by use of his national emergency declaration.

Defending the Pentagon’s response, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment Robert McMahon told a House Appropriations sub-panel that Defense Department leaders may repurpose FY19 funding from lower-priority projects, defer the projects and then ask Congress to replace the money through the FY20 president’s budget request.

Democrats have disputed the veracity of the emergency, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, reacted angrily to the Pentagon plan as endangering military readiness to undermine Congress’s power of the purse.

“Mr. Secretary, you’re fooling no one, really,” Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., told McMahon. “I don’t know what sort of chumps you think my colleagues and I are, but cancelling, deferring, coming back in FY20 to replace, all leads to the same thing. You are taking money from vital projects that the military previously said were essential, spending that money on a wall and asking for the money to be backfilled later — when we already had that debate and the president’s proposal was rejected.”

McMahon insisted repeatedly that he and other Pentagon officials were simply “executing the commander in chief’s direction,” and working to minimize harm to military readiness as it selects projects to defer temporarily.

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