From his very first speech as a candidate, Donald Trump promised to build a great wall along the southern border and “have Mexico pay for that wall." He repeated the pledge at countless campaign rallies.
Apparently, the president has an expansive view of Mexico. An ambulatory care center at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina is, in his view, part of Mexico. So is an engineering center at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York. And so are a cyber-ops facility in Virginia, a fire station in South Carolina, the central heating facility at an Air Force Base in Fairbanks, Alaska, and a middle school in Kentucky.
These are among 127 military construction projects whose $3.6 billion in funding will be raided to help pay for Trump’s wall. All of them were deemed important and worthy of congressional appropriations, approved by both chambers of Congress and signed into law by the president. And then Trump took their money away.
Time was when a maneuver like this would have outraged Republicans. Now, however, the whole thing induces, at best, a shrug. The money can be replaced next year, GOP lawmakers say. Perhaps. But that would mean diverting money from somewhere else. And Trump could pull his same stunt again.
What is happening here is wrong on many levels. For starters, most of these military projects are vital. They are not costly new weapons systems but rather the types of things that military people rely on to train, learn, get medical care and more.
One might think that a reliable source of heat would be a priority for an Alaska base 200 miles from the Arctic Circle. Same for replacing a 60-year-old fire station in South Carolina that the Pentagon recently said it's a safety hazard.
Then, too, is the issue of what we could expect from Trump’s wall.
In the decade before his presidency, physical barriers along the southern border were increased. Much of what lacks barriers has a much more effective deterrent: hostile desert and rugged terrain.
At the same time, the nature of illegal immigration has shifted. Border crossings by Mexicans have dropped, replaced in part by an upsurge in Central American migrants who tend to show up at walled ports of entry.
The most troubling aspects of the diversion relate to congressional powers and the Constitution. Tuesday was Constitution Day, and Article 1, Section 9 says: “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.” For decades, courts have done their best to pretend this sentence doesn’t exist, allowing both unbudgeted entitlements and presidential power grabs. But one might think that Congress as an institution would defend its prerogatives.
Alas, no. Earlier this year, most Republicans in the House and the Senate sided with Trump and voted away their powers over the purse. A second vote is likely soon. Don’t expect a different result.
In what we can only surmise is an effort at self-parody, the Republican-controlled Senate Appropriations Committee has posted Article 1, Section 9 on its website. Taking military construction funds to finance a project that Mexico was supposed to pay for is an abuse of power and an insult to America's service members.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump wall raids military construction projects, mocks US Constitution