Plan to shift $3.8B from Pentagon to border wall could affect F-35 program

Arizona officials monitoring how plan could affect Luke Air Force Base

By Christopher Scragg, Cronkite News
Posted 2/14/20

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration plans to tap the Pentagon for another $3.8 billion in military funds to pay for border wall construction this year, a move critics blasted as …

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Plan to shift $3.8B from Pentagon to border wall could affect F-35 program

Arizona officials monitoring how plan could affect Luke Air Force Base


WASHINGTON — The Trump administration plans to tap the Pentagon for another $3.8 billion in military funds to pay for border wall construction this year, a move critics blasted as “theft,” a raid and a money grab.

The fund transfers, detailed in Defense Department budget documents uncovered Thursday, would use money that had been budgeted for two F-35 fighters, two C-130J cargo planes, drones and other equipment. The plan also targets $1.3 billion that was originally allocated for National Guard units from all four branches of the military.

"The emergency declaration continues to undermine critical military assets, including those in Arizona," Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) stated Thursday in a release. "Cuts to military funding announced today unnecessarily risk resources for Arizona servicemembers and national security. I will continue working to end the emergency declaration, and find bipartisan solutions to secure our border and strengthen our military.”

This move comes a year after the White House diverted $3.6 billion from military construction projects to the wall that President Donald Trump famously promised during his 2016 election campaign would be paid for by Mexico.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Lesko (AZ-08) — whose coverage area includes Luke Air Force Base, which houses F-35s and trains pilots from around the world — is aware of the proposed cuts but is waiting on more information.

“I have seen the reports that the Department of Defense is asking to divert $3.8 billion to the border wall project,” Ms. Lesko’s office stated in an email to the Daily Independent. “I am awaiting more information, but I have already reached out to the White House to voice my concerns and get additional details on specific impacts. I will do anything and everything I can to protect the Arizona National Guard and the F-35 at Luke Air Force Base.”

An email to Sen. Martha McSally's (R-AZ) office has not been returned.

A spokesman for Luke AFB said they don’t have a statement on the proposed funding cuts as it’s too early on in the process.

“The details will still need to be determined through the F-35 Joint Program Office,” the spokesman stated in an email to the Daily Independent.

A Pentagon spokesman said the Defense Department supports the transfer of funds that will officially be used by the Department of Homeland Security for drug interdiction efforts along the border.

“The Department of Defense is committed to supporting the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to secure the southern border by constructing fences and roads and installing lighting to block drug smuggling corridors,” said Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell, the spokesman.

He said the request for funds came from DHS last month, “asking for assistance blocking drug-smuggling corridors on federal land along the southern border.”

In the budget document detailing the transfer, the Pentagon said DHS had listed “vehicle barriers, pedestrian fencing and new lighting as necessary tools to ‘impede and deny drug smuggling activities.’”

The Pentagon justified each of the more than one dozen appropriations slated for transfer, along with an explanation describing the targeted items as excessive, unnecessary or inconsistent with modernization goals. Most of the items were also labeled as congressional special interest items.

That drew the ire of National Guard Association of the United States, which said in a sharp letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley that the items being cut are far from “special interest” items.

“We contend that it is instead a special interest item for national security,” said the letter from NGAUS President J. Roy Robinson and board chairman Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire, who is also the adjutant general of Arizona.

“Reprogramming this congressionally directed funding would severely undermine the lethality and readiness of National Guard soldiers and airmen,” their letter said. “It would also significantly derail the timetable for safety upgrades and modernization efforts critical to National Guard weapon systems and equipment.”

Modernization and replacement projects for Humvees and National Guard equipment were among over a dozen appropriations on the chopping block.

Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee also criticized what they called administration “theft” from military accounts, and blamed Republican lawmakers for enabling the president.

“The Constitution gives Congress, not the President, the power of the purse,” said the statement from Democratic Reps. Nita Lowey of New York and Pete Visclosky of Indiana. “Congress rejected President Trump’s full request for wall funding, which is why he is now orchestrating this backdoor mechanism to prop up a political vanity project.”

It’s not the first time Congress and the White House have clashed over the funding.

When Congress in late 2018 denied Mr. Trump’s request for $5.7 billion for the wall, the ensuing budget standoff led to a 35-day government shutdown. The shutdown ended when Mr. Trump backed off, only to turn around and declare a national emergency that he said gives him the leeway to shuffle government funds and call on the Pentagon for the money.

That emergency was renewed Thursday by the White House.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, tweeted Thursday that Trump is making American taxpayers pay “to build his xenophobic wall.”

“Trump is stealing from Arizona military funding yet again to bulldoze Southern Arizona habitats and blow up Native American sites,” Mr. Grijalva’s tweet said.

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Tucson, said in a statement released by her office Thursday that Mr. Trump is “now trying to steal money from our National Guard to pay for his vanity wall project.”

“It is alarming to see President Trump raid defense accounts – without any Congressional oversight or approval,” Ms. Kirkpatrick’s statement said. “Not only does this action disregard our separation of powers and constitutional system, it also compromises our national security by taking away valuable resources.”