House Appropriations Committee to President: “Building a border wall is NOT military construction.”

Military Construction BudgetHouse Appropriations Committee to President: “Building a border wall is NOT military construction.”Pro Tip: Always read the General Provisions title.

Budget & Tax, National Security,  | Quick Take
May 10, 2019  | 4 min read | Print Article

The draft legislation that funds military construction, along with veteran’s programs, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is moving through the legislative process. The first draft, proposed by the subcommittee of jurisdiction, is now publicly available. The draft includes a provision prohibiting military construction funds from being used for construction of a border wall, despite the president’s wishes to the contrary.

At Taxpayers for Common Sense we’re going to pass along a “pro tip” for all you would-be budget nerds. Read the General Provisions title of every appropriations bill. Careful readers of TCS work already know that authorizing legislation is where policies are made. Appropriations bills set funding levels for each federal agency.

You can have the greatest policy in the world (or not) but if you have no money to implement that policy, you’ve got a whole lot of nothing. And if Congress specifically prohibits spending money on a policy, you’re in a pretty deep hole.

Careful study of the General Provisions of any appropriations bill will give you deep insight into what the Appropriations Committee would do if they were writing authorization bills. One downside to legislating this way is that appropriations legislation usually (though not always) is in effect for only the duration of the fiscal year. So, appropriators have to resort to boilerplate language that appears year after year to maintain a long-range policy. And 12 of the 13 General Provisions in this bill are such boilerplate items as a prohibition on the relevant departments paying for federal employees to fly first class (upgrades evidently allowed) and establishing or maintaining any computer network that can access pornography.

Back to military construction and the border wall. The new General Provision, Section 612, works around that time limit: “…prohibiting the use of funds in this Act and previous Acts for the construction of a wall, barrier, fence, or road along the Southern border of the United States or a road to provide access to a wall, barrier, or fence constructed along the Southern border of the United States.” (Emphasis added.)

There was consideration of an amendment to strike this provision, but it was voted down. The prohibition on using military construction accounts for the border wall remains in the bill.

Two things are important here. First, by prohibiting the use of money previously appropriated, the House is laying down a marker that the administration may not transfer money appropriated in FY18 or FY19 to build a border wall. Second, this does not prohibit the Department of Defense from using money appropriated in the larger Pentagon spending bill (which is separate legislation) to build a wall.

But we’re betting the Pentagon appropriations bill, when its contents are made public, will contain a similar prohibition. And that would be a good thing. The Pentagon should not be tasked, simply because of the massive size of its budget, with fulfilling the jurisdictional work of other agencies. Blocking the administration from transferring money from needed military construction projects that make the lives of our service members and their families safer and better is an important first step.

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