Tucked into the $718 billion budget the Pentagon released Tuesday and plans to submit to Congress was a new line item for $7 billion in funding that could help pay for the wall President Donald Trump has insisted he will build along the southern U.S. border.
Top defense budget officials employed some rhetorical gymnastics and finger-pointing in an attempt to parse how they plan to follow through on Trump’s plan to build the wall without continuing to rob the department of funds that officials say they desperately need for other pressing military missions.
The Pentagon took the rare step of adding a line item to the budget proposals marked “emergency,” dedicating $9.2 billion to address in part the president’s priorities for border protection. The line item was independent of a broader pot of money annually included in the budget that is reserved for unforeseen military requirements.
The emergency fund would add to the budget $2 billion for hurricane relief efforts and two allotments of $3.6 billion for the Army to recover from construction projects that went unfunded last year and to pay, in part, for potential new protective measures at the southern border, including wall construction.
When asked to clarify the proposed decision, which is likely dead on arrival to congressional appropriators, Pentagon comptroller Elaine A. McCusker told reporters it reflected “a presidential priority.”
Army officials speaking with reporters later were eager to separate the new emergency fund from the more than $31 billion in other contingency funds they say they need to take care of soldiers and their families, buy new equipment and repair and replace aging facilities. They explained that the $9 billion proposal comes from broad Department.
We call this emergency, for emergency purposes. So any details, I’d ask you to talk to [the Office of the Secretary of Defense],” Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Horlander, a budget specialist for the secretary of the Army, told reporters. “The 9.2 [billion] needs to be discussed independently. Right now, it’s incorporated into the Army’s budget so that OSD can carry it forward to Congress as part of the Defense request.”
Facing staunch opposition in Congress to paying for a wall along the southern border, Trump has instead leaned on his executive power to deploy the military to California, Arizona and Texas to assist the Department of Homeland Security address what he considers a humanitarian and national security crisis. Earlier this year, Trump declared a national emergency to better facilitate his ability to deploy the military to construct a border wall that Congress refused to fund. His decision already faces legal challenges.
The existing deployments have cost upward of $230 million, according to some estimates, prompting some of the proposals released Tuesday to pay for the continued deployment and any other missions that didn’t receive funding because of it.