For border wall, Trump raids billions from Pentagon budget (again)

As far as Trump is concerned, the Pentagon has so much extra money lying around, he can raid its budget without consequence.
Border Wall
Construction is seen on the secondary fence that separates the United States and Mexico in the San Diego Sector on Aug. 22, 2019 in San Diego, Calif.Carolyn Van Houten / The Washington Post via Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

Donald Trump's Defense Department announced yesterday that it's diverting $3.8 billion from military operations to cover construction costs for border barriers -- or as the White House likes to call it, the president's "wall."

The Department of Defense "reprogramming" notice says it plans to pull $2.2 billion from an account that funds counterdrug activities and another $1.6 billion from a war account known as the Overseas Contingency Operations fund. The transfer of funds would have an impact on the purchase of new aircraft, vehicles and weapons -- including Navy V-22 Osprey aircraft and parts for an Air Force reaper drone and F-35 planes, the notice says.

If this sounds familiar, it's not your imagination. Exactly a year ago this week, Trump signed an emergency declaration in which he gave himself the authority to redirect federal funds away from the military, in defiance of Congress' wishes. This week's action extended the alleged emergency another year.

Part of the problem, of course, is that the emergency has never been altogether real. Indeed, the president conceded as much at the time, telling reporters during a rambling press conference, "I didn't need to do this, but I'd rather do it much faster.... I just want to get it done faster, that's all."

Complicating matters, the White House's official rationale was that conditions at the border itself necessitated the raid on the Pentagon's budget, but the number of border apprehensions has fallen sharply over the last 12 months, further reinforcing the fact that there is no actual emergency -- unless one considers a misguided campaign promise that Trump will break ahead of Election Day to be a genuine national predicament.

But let's also not overlook the subtext: as far as Trump is concerned, the Department of Defense has so much extra money lying around, which the Pentagon does not actually need for national security purposes, that the White House can raid it -- repeatedly -- with no meaningful consequences.

Occasionally, the president likes to boast that the Obama-era Pentagon was desperate for investment, which Trump was able to provide. What he neglects to note is that the boast comes with fine print: Trump threw so much money at Defense that he's comfortable shaving off a few billion dollars for his vanity project -- Congress' power of the purse notwithstanding -- and the military won't really miss it.

As MSNBC's Chris Hayes noted on Twitter, "This is illegal and unconstitutional and also, weirdly, an incredibly frank admission by the [White House] of how much Pentagon money is wasted!"