Senate uses pandemic bill to fill accounts raided for Trump’s border wall

GOP proposal 'a sad statement of their values,' Pelosi says

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., talks to reporters as he departs the Senate floor after a vote July 22. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., talks to reporters as he departs the Senate floor after a vote July 22. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)
Posted July 28, 2020 at 4:15pm

Billions of dollars included in Senate Republicans’ proposed $1 trillion installment of coronavirus emergency relief funding would restore money for military hardware that was redirected to pay for President Donald Trump’s border wall.

The Trump administration reprogrammed funding for a slew of ships, aircraft and other weaponry earlier this year to pay for the politically contentious wall on the border with Mexico, which Democrats have opposed.

The bill, made public Monday evening, includes money for fighter jets, helicopters, radars, ships and armored vehicles that is exempt from this year's budget caps because it is considered emergency spending.

The legislation would not only restore funds to some defense programs cut by the White House, but also allow for some political wins on the behalf of its sponsors, like Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., the chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

The measure would restore $260 million in funding to the Navy’s Expeditionary Fast Transport Vessel, just short of the $261 million that was reprogrammed. The ship is built in Shelby’s home state of Alabama by Austal USA.

Also restored by the bill is $686 million for the production of the F-35A fighter jet, from which $156 million was redirected to the border wall. The F-35 is produced in Ft. Worth, Texas, the home state of Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who co-sponsored the bill.

Another aircraft cut by the White House was the Navy’s P-8A Poseidon, which lost $180 million during reprogramming. The proposed legislation would put over $1 billion back into that program.

Funding for the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account, which lost $1.3 million in the reprogramming, would receive roughly $800 million in the Senate's version of the pandemic relief package.

Senate Republicans said the defense funds are necessary to offset the economic damage done by the coronavirus.

“The pandemic continues to threaten the defense industrial base and thousands of vulnerable suppliers across the country who support it. That puts thousands and thousands of jobs in jeopardy. The chairman believes Congress must act, not turn a blind eye,” a Shelby spokeswoman said.

“I don’t buy that,” said Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The bill shows that Senate Republicans were never happy with the Trump administration taking dollars for specific defense programs and moving that money — even if they agreed with the border wall.”

Harrison warned that the bill should be evaluated in the context of an opening to negotiations with House Democrats. “It’s highly unlikely that the bill will be written into law as it’s currently written,” he said.

Democrats immediately balked at the proposed legislation. In a tweet, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York said that Republicans were fighting for big banks and defense contractors in their proposal, rather than American families.

In a Tuesday statement, Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the defense money a slush fund.

“The Senate GOP proposal is a sad statement of their values, selling out struggling families at the kitchen table in order to enrich the corporate interests at the boardroom table," they said.