In the News

Senators Face Tough Vote on Diverting Funds From Local Military Projects

Harrison Cramer, National Journal

Washington, DC, September 11, 2019

The Senate will vote for the second time on blocking President Trump’s plan to transfer military construction funds to the border, forcing many Republicans to choose whether to strip millions in funding from their home states.

Trump will likely veto the resolution, introduced Wednesday morning by Sens. Susan Collins, Jeanne Shaheen, and Tom Udall. Congress first voted to cancel the emergency in March but failed to reach the two-thirds majority required to override the president’s opposition. Existing law allows the Senate to take the vote every six months, a vote that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cannot block.

Supporters of the measure hope this time will be different: In March, the Pentagon had not released information on which construction projects would be affected. That list, now public, shows that 19 Republicans who originally voted to sustain Trump’s veto will have funding stripped from local military construction projects.

Several of them face tough reelection battles in 2020.

Sen. Thom Tillis’s home state of North Carolina will lose $47.3 million in deferred construction, largely from projects at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Sen. Cory Gardner, who faces an uphill reelection battle in Colorado, would see $8 million transferred from construction at Peterson Air Force Base. And the Pentagon plans to defer $30 million in construction at the Ground Transport Equipment Building at Fort Huachuca, in Sen. Martha McSally’s home state of Arizona. McSally told reporters before the March vote that no funds would be transferred from projects in her state.

Republicans who support the emergency, and whose districts face cuts, said that the deferred projects would be fully funded in the future, and they blamed Democrats for the dilemma.

“I’d like him not to do it, but I’d like the border secure,” said Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who voted against terminating the emergency and will see $17 million cut from Tyndall Air Force Base. Scott told National Journal that he’d been told the project, a fire and crash rescue station, would not be affected by the deferment.

“While I do not agree with the decision to defer any military construction in Alaska, it should be noted that the Democrats’ obstruction to fund much needed border security has forced the Trump administration to undertake these measures,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan, who voted against terminating the emergency and whose home state of Alaska now faces over $100 million in deferments at Fort Greely and Eielson Air Force Base—the third-most of any state after New York and New Mexico. Sullivan’s colleague from Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, voted to terminate the emergency.

House Republicans who represent districts affected by the plan released similar statements, blaming Democrats for the decision and reaffirming their support for border security.

“Unfortunately, we have a situation where baseless opposition from the Democrats on securing funding to protect our border has prompted possible delay of some military projects,” said Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, whose home district would lose $62 million in funding for Fort Campbell Middle School, in a statement to National Journal.

Rep. Kevin Hern, whose district will lose $8 million originally allocated for construction of an Oklahoma National Guard shooting range, said the transfer “does not threaten our national security capabilities” and that he would “work hard with our delegation to ensure our guardsmen have all the resources that they need to do their job.

“President Trump and Republican leaders have been working to fund a border wall for years. If there’s anything we can do to continue moving it forward, we must do it,” Hern added.

Of the $1.07 billion pulled from U.S. states, approximately 57 percent, or $620 million, was diverted from Democratic districts, and 32 percent, or $342 million, from Republican districts, according to a National Journal analysis of the data.

About 11 percent, or $114 million, was pulled from previously canceled projects or projects that spanned across districts represented by both parties. (Included in this total is money transferred from construction at Camp Lejeune, whose district had no representative when Trump declared the emergency.)

Far more funding—about $1.84 billion—was pulled from projects located on foreign soil. The countries which lose the most are Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, Poland, and Slovakia, which see deferments of $467.5 million, $405.6 million, $250.5 million, $130.4 million, and $105 million, respectively. Ramstein Air Base in Germany lost $119 million alone from one storage depot designed to support the rapid deployment of air forces for the European Deterrence Initiative.

Controversially, some of the hardest-hit facilities are elementary schools and daycare centers, which will lose roughly $524 million, making up 14.5 percent of the total funds diverted to the border.

Domestic schools to lose funding include Fort Campbell Middle School ($62.63 million), the child-development center at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland ($13 million), and the replacement project for Ramey Unit School in Puerto Rico ($61 million).

Schools for deployed units abroad were also affected. In Germany, Spangdahlem Elementary School, Robinson Barracks Elementary School, and Clay Kaserne Elementary School lose $79.1 million, $46.6 million, and $56 million, respectively. In Japan, Bechtel Elementary School and Kinnick High School lose $94.8 and $40 million, and in the United Kingdom, Croughton School loses $71.4 million.

Defense officials intend to “backfill” projects affected by the cuts. But the deferments have already sparked interest from defense appropriators and authorizers in limiting the Pentagon’s authority to reallocate funds in the future. The House defense policy bill limits the amount of money the Pentagon can shuffle around during future national emergencies, and blocks spending on the wall outright. The House defense appropriations bill limits the amount of money the Pentagon can shift between accounts from $9.5 billion to $1.5 billion.

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday will consider the defense spending bill, which includes $1.7 billion for the wall and does not restrict the transfers. Top Democratic appropriator Patrick Leahy said Tuesday that he would propose amendments restricting transfers and border-wall spending.