SALT LAKE CITY — The Trump administration is diverting $54 million in projects at Hill Air Force Base to help fund construction of a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
Utah GOP Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney said the Air Force told them Wednesday that money appropriated by Congress for the Hill projects would instead be spent on the wall as a result of President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration in February. Both senators had urged the Defense Department to protect funding for the Utah projects.
“Congress has been ceding far too much power to the executive branch for decades and it is far past time for Congress to restore the proper balance of power between the three branches,” Lee said in a statement.
Pentagon officials on Tuesday said the Defense Department would redirect $3.6 billion from 127 existing military construction projects to build about 175 miles of wall on the southern border.
Lee said his proposed Article One Act would correct the imbalances caused by the National Emergencies Act.
The bill, co-sponsored by Romney, would automatically end all future emergency declarations made under the National Emergencies Act after 30 days unless Congress votes to extend them. Congress now can cancel an emergency declaration only by passing a resolution that withstands a presidential veto.
Romney said he is “disappointed” that despite the concerns he and Lee raised, the projects will be “delayed.”
“Funding the border wall is an important priority, and the executive branch should use the appropriate channels in Congress, rather than divert already appropriated funding away from military construction projects and therefore undermining military readiness,” he said in a statement.
Congress could restore the funding in the next budget cycle, and Romney said he would work with Utah’s delegation to fight for the projects, “which are essential to Utah’s service members and our national security strategy.”
The Trump administration will divert $26 million for a Composite Aircraft Antenna Calibration Facility and another $28 million from the Utah Test and Training Range Consolidated Mission Control Center to help build the border wall.
Rep. Ben McAdams, Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, said he opposed Trump’s emergency declaration for the wall, “with this exact concern in mind.”
“While I support efforts to enhance our security at the southern border, I remain opposed to robbing Hill Air Force Base to pay for the border wall and harming our military readiness,” he said in a statement.
The Constitution, he said, does not give the executive branch authority to spend money without congressional approval.
Last year, Utah GOP Congressmen Rob Bishop, whose district includes the base, and Chris Stewart, a former Air Force pilot, said they opposed the president using military money to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Bishop blamed the Senate last year for putting the projects at Hill and around the world in jeopardy. He said majorities in the House and Senate had agreed last December to fund the government and border security, but the possibility of a filibuster by Democrats in the Senate stalled the measures.
In a statement Wednesday he again blamed Democrats, and said securing the border is an important aspect of defending the country.
“Congressional Democrats have supported border security in the past, and if they had not opposed border security for purely partisan purposes recently, we would not be in this position today,” said Bishop, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Bishop called the diversion of funds a delay, not a cancellation, and said he expects the money to be restored.
“These military programs are critically important for our national defense,” he said.
In an April letter to the Defense Department, Lee and Romney wrote that the mission control center is in urgent need of upgrades to maintain fighter pilot combat readiness.
The center is housed in two decaying 74-year-old converted warehouses, and its air traffic control and monitoring equipment is nearly obsolete, “which is why it was selected to receive military construction funds in the first place,” they wrote.
The administration has indicated it plans to request replacement funding for the projects in fiscal year 2020, according to the senators. Congress would then have to reappropriate the money.