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Defense secretary faces grilling from Congress for diverting funding to border wall

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper faced a bipartisan grilling from lawmakers Wednesday on Capitol Hill for his decision to divert military funding to pay for the US border wall as he testifies before the House Armed Services Committee.

The move to shift $3.8 billion to the border “undercuts any argument about the need for resources within the Department of Defense and it also undercuts the congressional process,” the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Democratic Rep. Adam Smith, told Esper during the hearing.

“This effort to keep stealing money for the wall is really undermining the Department of Defense, and is something, regardless of how you feel about the wall, we should have a bipartisan consensus that should not be done,” Smith added.

The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry, also slammed the move saying it is “substituting the judgement of the administration for the judgement of Congress,” adding “I am deeply concerned about where we’re headed with the constitutional issue.”

In a letter dated Tuesday, Smith and Thornberry wrote to the Pentagon’s top budget official slamming the decision to repurpose military funds for the border wall via a process known as “reprogramming.”

“The committee denies this request,” Smith and Thornberry wrote.

“The Congress alone has the constitutional authority to determine how the nation spends its defense dollars,” they said, adding, “When Congress acts, the Department of Defense cannot ignore congressional will in pursuit of their own priorities.”

Pentagon officials have argued they do not need congressional approval to reprogram funds, and they say the money is being redirected from military aircraft and other projects that the Defense Department had not requested.

While Defense officials told reporters Tuesday that they expected to retain the ability to reprogram funds in the future despite the congressional pushback, Smith and Thornberry warned in their letter that the authority could be stripped from the Pentagon over the border maneuver.

“The steps taken in this reprogramming put the Department at risk to lose the flexibility Congress has historically granted to effectively manage the resources provided,” they wrote.

“I’m afraid that this, the result of this will be greater restrictions on the department’s ability move money around, to meet changing needs and the country will suffer as a result,” Thornberry told Esper during the hearing Wednesday.

Reprogramming authority is seen as vital, as it allows the Pentagon to move money from budgets that are sometimes set years in advance to meet emerging requirements.

Smith and Thornberry, who is not running for reelection, have been vocal in their opposition to Esper’s move to take billions of dollars from programs such as the F-35 stealth jet, C-130J transport planes and MQ-9 drones.

Administration officials have argued that “border security is national security,” although the southern border does not appear in the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy.

“There’s a lot of things that we do that are not in the National Defense Strategy,” Esper told the committee.

Article Topic Follows: Politics

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