President Donald Trump’s absurd machination to seize border funding via a federal “state of emergency” will cost America’s military mightily. His decision to zero out 127 defense projects and claim their $3.6 billion funding for his wall represents more than 30% of the 2019 military construction allocation Congress approved.
This debacle, which halts a significant Puget Sound project, grew from a February power struggle involving all three branches of the federal government.
Congress used its Constitutional budgeting authority to deny Trump money to build a “border wall” he promised supporters — the one he had insisted Mexico would pay for. Trump then told the nation “an invasion of drugs and criminals coming into our country” constituted an emergency, and ordered military allocations redirected toward a wall. After Congress failed to overturn the “emergency,” the Supreme Court enabled this power grab in a July split decision.
Washington’s Naval Base Kitsap in Bangor loses out, with an $89 million pier and maintenance facility now defunded. The Coast Guard’s Maritime Force Protection Unit patrol boats would have used that pier to better protect the base’s submarines. Aside from a $95 million engineering center at the U.S. Military Academy, the Bangor pier is the largest defunded project in any state. A separate pier project for the Kitsap submarines themselves was not threatened.
The list of military construction projects that lose funding shows what Trump’s folly will cost America’s armed forces. Munitions depots, airfield upgrades and shooting ranges make the list. A prominent chunk, more than $500 million, eliminates eight school building projects for children growing up on military sites in Puerto Rico, Kentucky, England, three bases in Germany and two in Japan. Some of these were to replace decades-old base schools the Defense Department cited as being in poor condition.
New schools for military children will have to wait. Trump diverted the money to build his “wall” of slats and posts.
The true cost to national security will play out in the years beyond Trump. Members of Congress have said they won’t backfill funding for these projects, and for good reason. Doing so would just refill the cookie jar for Trump to dip into again.
He’ll be able to point at steel slats and claim a wall, but make no mistake: The cost is coming out of the American military, not Mexico. These military needs will go years longer before they are met. And future presidents will have a blueprint of exactly how to override the congressional power of the purse.
Congress must regain its backbone and permanently safeguard military priorities against manufactured crises. The specific projects defunded to build this wall should jolt the Senate into backing the new effort to overturn Trump’s “emergency.” Projects in Bangor and beyond would help America much more than the fulfillment of Trump’s campaign bluster.