Ever determined to get his wall, which he repeatedly promised that Mexico would pay for, President Donald Trump has decided to “redirect” $3.6 billion from the Defense Department budget in order to build 170 miles of his “magnificent” border wall. That breaks down to $21 million and change per mile of wall.

Under the clear terms of the U.S. Constitution, it is the Legislative Branch of government (Congress) that has the power of the purse, not the Executive Branch (the president). But because the president has  declared a national emergency on the border, ordinary rules have been suspended. It’s a question that will ultimately be decided in the courts.

Earlier this year, the Defense Department “repurposed” $2.5 billion from its budget to build the wall. With its new maneuvers, the administration has taken a whopping $6.1 billion from the Defense budget to pay for the wall. And this is after Congress very clearly rejected the claim of “emergency,” and refused to meet the president’s funding demand.

The first redirected dollars were earmarked for drug interdiction on the border. That’s now gone. The new and more aggressive redirection will affect 127 planned defense construction projects, which will be put on hold, in order to keep out the “rapists” and “criminals” and other “bad hombres” trying to reach the United States through an “invasion” of caravans, among other means. 

Included within affected projects are nine schools for troops’ children, rebuilding money for military facilities damaged by hurricanes in Puerto Rico, four projects in Virginia, including a cyber operations facility at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, and a child development center and an explosive ordnance disposal range at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. 

So, what’s next? The administration is counting on Congress to “backfill” funding for the previously approved projects, which would be an appropriation of new tax dollars to replace the billions siphoned off for the wall. Such an effort by the GOP would bring new meaning to the reckless “tax and spend” ideology that they so heavily criticized during prior Democratic administrations.  

The Trump funding shuffle is wrong. The president should not be building his vanity project on the backs of our service members, military families or national defense. Instead, he should be making a more effective funding pitch to Congress, since the funding decision is not his to make.

The operation of government by emergency is a symptom of authoritarian rule and should be avoided. Americans overwhelmingly oppose the Trump border wall because it is viewed as a ham-fisted way of promoting border security. It also ignores the need for meaningful immigration reform. Bricks, mortar and metal — no matter how big or beautiful the structure — cannot substitute for the thoughtful development of policy and rules designed to fix our broken immigration system.  

The need for immigration reform is the real emergency. Let’s deal with that directly, rather than trying to hide behind a big wall. JN

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