President Trump has a pool of roughly $21 billion in military construction funds he can use to build the border wall by emergency declaration, congressional aides said Thursday — though much of that is already destined for other projects that would have to be put on hold.
Trump will end up with about $8 billion in wall money, with $600 million coming from a Treasury Department forfeiture fund, $2.5 billion from Pentagon drug interdiction money and $3.5 billion from the military construction budget. He will get $1.375 billion from the bill Congress approved.
Howls erupted from Capitol Hill, where Democrats and some Republicans said the move would spark a constitutional crisis. One activist group said it was worthy of impeachment.
Legal challenges, and a vote to overturn the president’s move are both anticipated.
“This is a gross abuse of power that cannot be tolerated,” babbled House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler.
But Republican House leaders have said they’ll rally the votes to back President Trump.
Details on President Trump’s plans were scanty, and it wasn’t clear where he would build the wall, whether he will use new designs, or whether he’ll be able to overcome private property and environmental hurdles that have plagued past rounds of wall-building.
It wasn’t clear how much money he would need, where he would build the wall, whether he will use new designs, or whether he’ll be able to overcome private property and environmental hurdles that have plagued past rounds of wall-building.
Foremost, it gives him access to money Congress already approved in the Pentagon’s military construction budget. Roughly $10 billion is available in this fiscal year’s budget, and another roughly $11 billion is available in unobligated funds from the past five years’ military construction budgets.
The money has generally been designated for specific projects but the funds so far have not been awarded and no contracts signed, congressional aides said.
In some cases, pulling those funds could, in theory, result in half-completed facilities, if for example contracts have been signed for one portion of a construction project but not another.
“He’s free to spend it without a vote from Congress,” a congressional aide said. “He has to notify Congress of what he’s done, but he doesn’t have to come to Congress to do it.”
In addition to the $21 billion, another $800 million in counter-drug money is also immediately available, aides said.
As for the suddenly unfunded projects, congressional aides said they will have to “start anew” and Congress would have to specifically appropriate new money for those projects in the upcoming budget.
Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing back on reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., beat President Trump in the latest budget shutdown fight, claiming that Congress approved historic funding levels for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and border patrol, added miles to the border wall, and increased the cap on criminal illegal aliens that can be jailed.
Insiders who worked on the deal said that compared to going along with a spending continuing resolution, the GOP scored several wins, though it did not reach the $5.7 billion funding Trump wanted for the wall.
“I know the conventional wisdom is that he lost on the wall in this package. But he gained … under impossible conditions,” said one insider on background.
….Will be getting almost $23 BILLION for Border Security. Regardless of Wall money, it is being built as we speak!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2019
While a country mile away from being able to declare it a victory, the number of wins the GOP won in the three weeks of negotiations were sizable, said insiders.
What’s more, Trump and GOP negotiators led by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and his team blocked several moves by Pelosi and other Democrats to fill the deal with anti-wall moves like lowering spending for ICE and slashing the number of “detention beds” to hold criminal illegal aliens .
“Pelosi lost. She knew her position on detentions beds was unsustainable and only playing to her fringe. She also said no new miles for the wall,” said the source. “She had to step back from all positions.”
Compared to a simple continuing resolution, or CR, with nothing extra beyond current spending levels set in fiscal 2018, Trump gained extra funding for the wall. A CR would have provided $500 million, said the source, but Trump received $1.375 billion. That is “triple” the number of miles in the fiscal 2018 budget and “nearly three times as much as would have been available under a CR,” said the source.
On detention beds, the number increased 13 percent over fiscal 2018. And when another $750 million in transfer and reprogramming authority is added in, it represents a 44 percent increase, said the source.
What’s more, the bill provides historic funding levels for ICE and Customs and Border Protection, a rejection of liberal efforts to kill the agencies. It was a 7 percent budget increase for a combined $21.5 billion.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
February 15th, 2019