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In the wake of Trump’s national emergency declaration, Lara Seligman’s latest piece for Foreign Policy spotlights how the administration will drain billions of dollars from military funding for the construction of an increasingly unpopular border wall. The President’s declaration came just days after military families testified at a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing on “the deplorable state of some military housing,” making military families just one of the growing list of stakeholders in the President’s reckless actions. Over the weekend, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC), for example, told CBS’ “Face The Nation” that school construction on military bases should take a back seat to border spending, but families on military bases facing substandard housing, schools of other facilities may have a different perspective.
The Foreign Policy piece is excerpted below, and available online here.
President Donald Trump’s plan to declare a national emergency will divert $3.6 billion earmarked for U.S. military construction projects—possibly hospitals and infrastructure improvements—to fund a portion of his long-promised wall along the southern border, a move that experts say is an affront to military families.
…The announcement, which came as the president also planned to sign into law a government spending bill to avoid a second government shutdown, comes just days after a Senate Armed Services subcommittee held a marathon hearing on the deplorable state of some military housing.
During the hearing, military families described in shocking detail living in crumbling homes, and lawmakers expressed outrage at the allegations of “unacceptable” conditions of privately managed housing. On the same day, a group released a survey of living conditions at U.S. bases that described black mold, lead paint, infestations, flooding, and more.
“Having the president declare a national emergency in order to use [military construction] funding just days after a horrible SASC hearing on the terrible state of privatized military housing is a slap in the face to military families,” said Loren DeJonge Schulman of the Center for a New American Security. “The trade-off may not be direct—it’s not clear what the funding might have otherwise done—but it’s an ugly symbol of priorities.”
Trump will use a legal provision that allows the president to redirect unobligated military construction funds—money that has been appropriated by Congress and set aside for specific projects but not yet issued—in the event of a war or national emergency.
In addition to the $3.6 billion in military construction funds, the White House has identified $1.375 billion in the appropriations bill the president plans to sign to avert the shutdown, $600 million from the Treasury Department’s forfeiture funds, and roughly $2.5 billion from Pentagon funding for counterdrug activities, some of which will be reprogrammed from other Defense Department accounts, Mulvaney said.
…The use of the emergency provision is problematic in many ways, experts say. The $3.6 billion, which could be taken from construction projects such as hospitals, family housing, and maintenance, would not be replenished until Congress passes another defense appropriations bill, according to two congressional aides speaking on condition of anonymity. This could leave critical infrastructure improvements in limbo. It is still unclear which projects the money would come from, the aides said.
…At any event, invoking a national emergency outside of war or high-profile disasters like the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks sets a troubling precedent, DeJonge Schulman said. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hinted that a future Democratic president could similarly use the emergency measure to implement sweeping changes in national policy without going through Congress.
For example, one statute would allow the president to suspend rules prohibiting the testing of biological and chemical weapons on unwitting people, Boyle said. Another would allow the president to shut down or take over radio stations. Still another allows the government to freeze the assets of people—including Americans—and prohibit them from engaging in any type of financial transactions in which a foreign national has an interest.
“It’s concerning when any powers intended for emergency use are used in nonemergency situations in order to avoid the check of congressional legislation and power of the purse on executive action,” Boyle said.
However, Mulvaney pushed back on the concern that the move creates a potentially dangerous precedent.
“It actually creates zero precedent,” he said. “This is authority given to the president in law already, it’s not as if he just didn’t get what he wanted so he’s waving a magic wand and taking a bunch of money.”