Top House Armed Services Republican: Using defense funds for border wall would hurt troops

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The top Republican in the House Armed Services Committee says he opposes using any defense funds to build the border wall advocated by President Donald Trump.

House Armed Services Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told reporters Tuesday that he is not in favor of the idea of the president declaring a national emergency and using military construction funds to build a wall along the Mexican border without congressional approval because it will be damaging to the already failing military facilities and installations.

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“It seems to me we ought to fund border security needs on their own and not be taking it from other accounts,” he said.

Thornberry explained some of the infrastructure problems he’s seen first hand.

“Last fall, I vividly remember touring a barracks with mold growing out of the ceiling where they had to evacuate the soldiers out of certain rooms,” Thornberry said. “We went over to see a repair facility where it was from the 1950s, where they couldn’t repair some of the vehicles indoors because it was so old. As the defense budget was cut, military construction was devastated and as much as we’ve done the last two years, we have not made up for that deficit.”

Thornberry isn’t alone in his concern for military infrastructure. Multiple military installations officials testified before Congress that military infrastructure is failing.  About 20 percent of DoD facilities are in failing condition. The Army alone needs $11 billion to get its facilities and installations in working order.

The Government Accountability Office regularly finds issues with military facilities.

“Service members we spoke with described poor conditions at some facilities, including heating and cooling system problems, leaking roofs and windows, and mold and mildew,” a 2018 GAO blog said.

Suspicions that Trump may try to use national emergency powers to pay for the wall have grown as the shutdown has dragged on, but his pubicly televised speech on Tuesday did not make mention of them.

Enacting a national emergency allows the president to use unobligated military construction funds and possibly counter-narcotics funds to build infrastructure needed to secure the country, Thornberry said.

It also allows the White House to halt Army civil works projects and apply those funds and resources to national defense projects.

Trump requested $5.7 billion to begin building the border wall. The issue became a point of contention between the executive branch and Congress, leading to the current partial government shutdown.

There is currently $16.4 billion unobligated in the 2018 military construction budget, according to DoD’s 2018 financial statement. The executive could theoretically access those defense funds without congressional approval under a national emergency.

Thornberry said he is open to other options to fund the wall, including lowering the amount of the request or adding amnesty provisions for unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the U.S. when they were children.

“Physical barriers are only part of the answer,” Thornberry said. “You need technology, you need people and increasingly with the tremendous number of people who are approaching our border, you’ve got to have some resources to deal with them.”