The Pentagon is reportedly planning to tap $1 billion in leftover funds from military pay and pension allotments to help finance border wall construction, according to a top Senate Democrat.
President Donald Trump declared a national emergency last month to obtain additional funding building additional barriers along the U.S. border with Mexico.
Besides the $1.375 billion Congress voted to authorize for barrier funding in February, the White House plans to redirect $3.6 billion from a military construction fund, $2.5 billion from a Department of Defense drug interdiction program and $600 million from the Treasury Department from a drug forfeiture fund.
The national emergency is specifically being used to tap the $3.6 billion from the military construction fund.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois told the Associated Press that the DOD plans to repurpose $1 billion from excess military recruitment bonuses and pensions toward wall funding.
He explained that Army recruitment is down, and voluntary early retirement numbers were also lower than anticipated, which resulted in the surplus funds being available.
According to the AP, the Pentagon is trying to minimize the money being taken away from other military construction projects, which lawmakers want to see spent in their home states and districts.
The DOD plans to transfer the excess pay and pension moneys into a fund dedicated to drug interdiction, which is not part of the Trump’s emergency declaration.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith of Washington said he is upset at the latest Pentagon funding move proposal because the agency did not seek permission from Congress, Military Times reported.
“My concern is not where (it’s) coming from,” the Democrat said. “My concern is where it is going: to something that has nothing to do with the national security of this country and where we should not be spending money.
“And what is different about this is they’re not asking, they’re just doing.”
Charlie Summers, acting Pentagon press secretary, told Military Times that “no decision has been made” about using personnel money to fund the wall, but did not dispute it has been discussed.
Lawmakers said the Pentagon presented the plan to them as a near certainty.
The Democrat-controlled House voted to oppose Trump’s emergency declaration last month, arguing it is a violation of the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.
The Senate is expected to do the same later this month, with four Republican senators already saying they will vote with Democrats, which clinches the 51 senators needed to pass the measure.
The resolution of disapproval, if successful, would block the president from using funds from the military construction fund.
However, Trump has the veto power and has stated he would use if for the first time in his presidency. A two-thirds vote in the Senate and the House is required to override a presidential veto.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted on Monday that Democrats will lack the votes to override Trump’s veto in the House, so that is where the effort would end.
Democrats currently hold a 235 seats in the House and approximately 290 are needed to override a veto.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen issued a grave assessment on Wednesday of the situation at the southern border, saying those seeking to enter the U.S. illegally has spiked dramatically and they are overwhelming the system.
“Illegal immigration is simply spiraling out of control and threatening public safety and national security,” Nielsen told the House Committee on Homeland Security.
She said the number of apprehensions has been rising recently, hitting 50,000 to 60,000 each month.
“In February, we saw a 30 percent jump over the previous month, with agents apprehending or encountering nearly 75,000 aliens,” she said.
“This is an 80 percent increase over the same time last year. And I can report today that (Customs and Border Patrol) is forecasting the problem will get even worse this spring as the weather warms up.”
Nielsen added that CBP is now on track to apprehend more migrants crossing the border in the first six months of fiscal year 2019 than in the entirety of FY 2017.
“These increases will overwhelm the system entirely,” the secretary said. “This is not a manufactured crisis. This is truly an emergency.”
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