August 24, 2019
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‘Presidents don’t get to substitute their spending priorities for those of the Congress’

Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald
Rich Beauchesne | Portsmouth Herald
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.

Improvements at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard are among nearly $13 billion worth of military projects nationwide that could have their funding diverted to the construction of a barrier along the southern US border.

Congress appropriated money to fund these military projects and President Donald Trump signed bills that included the spending. But, last month, Trump declared a national emergency after he and Congress failed to agree on a spending package that included the more than $8 billion he sought specifically for a border barrier.

Trump identified the military’s construction budget as a funding source he could raid to pay for his long sought after border wall. As part of the emergency process, the president asked the military to put together a list of construction projects that have yet to begin.

Now, the future of these projects are in doubt because the president has decided to take money away from them, despite previous Congressional approval. If he spends that money on a border wall instead, it is unclear what happens to these already-approved and funded projects. Presumably, Congress would have to appropriate the funds again, adding unnecessary delay to this work.

[Portsmouth Naval Shipyard could lose millions in funding to build Trump’s border wall]

This highlights the absurdity of declaring a national emergency to make an end run around Congress.

It is one reason why Sen. Susan Collins led a Senate effort to end the president’s national emergency declaration. The resolution Collins introduced passed the Senate — with support from 12 Republicans — but was vetoed by Trump on Friday. Not enough Republicans supported the measure to override the veto.

On the Senate floor in February, Collins cited the potential for delaying needed work at the shipyard in Kittery as one reason why the declaration should be voided. “Shifting funding away from these vital projects is short-sighted and could have very real national security implications,” Collins said on Feb. 28. “We must defend Congress’s institutional powers as the Founders hoped we would, even when doing so is inconvenient or goes against the outcome we might prefer.”

The overarching argument is that the declaration allows the president to usurp Congress’ powers to raise and spend money. This runs afoul of the US Constitution.

It also leads to situations like this where the fate of needed work at military installations around the world is clouded in unnecessary uncertainty.

According to a list released earlier this week by the Pentagon, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is at risk of losing as much as $200 million in funding for projects that Congress approved and funded over the last two fiscal years. The largest project, with a $149 million price tag, would upgrade a dry dock at the Kittery facility so it can accomodate the Navy’s nuclear powered submarines.

“Congress took the trouble of funding these priorities through an organized process based on clear need; my colleagues and I will continue to oppose diverting these funds for a project whose need is belied by the administration’s own facts and figures,” Sen. Angus King said in a statement on Monday. “Presidents don’t get to substitute their spending priorities for those of the Congress – it’s as simple as that.”

King also criticized Pentagon officials for being so slow in releasing the list of projects that could be impacted. The list, he said, should have been made available when the president made the emergency declaration.

“This is clear executive overreach, which is why my colleagues and I voted last month to overturn the president’s emergency declaration,” said 1st Congressional District Rep. Chellie Pingree, a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies, in a statement Monday.

All of this points to the need for a more thoughtful and comprehensive debate about immigration and border security that doesn’t involve the president usurping Congress’ authority and throwing the budgeting process into disarray.


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