Border wall funding puts C-130J aircraft at risk
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon on Thursday slashed billions of dollars in funding for 17 Navy and Air Force aircraft and other military programs to free up money for the construction of President Donald Trump’s long-sought U.S.-Mexico border wall, angering not just Democrats but also GOP defense hawks.
The $3.8 billion reallocation could jeopardize new C-130J aircraft planned for the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna.
“Many communities and military bases, in both Republican and Democratic-led states, will be harmed by this outrageous use of executive power,” U.S. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, said in a emailed statement.
Ryan said President Trump is revoking $365 million from C-130J ($196 million from Air Force Reserve and $169 million from Overseas Contingency Operations).
“No branch of the military or region of the country was spared from President Trump’s raid on our military investments. I agree with my Republican colleague, Congressman Mack Thornberry when he said that President Trump’s actions are illegal and is in ‘violation of the separation of powers within the Constitution.’ President Trump is making our nation less safe and putting our soldiers in danger in order to build a border wall that you can literally dig underneath or climb over top. We were promised that Mexico would pay for this wall, now it’s the American taxpayer and our men and women in uniform that will bear the brunt of this irresponsible decision,” Ryan said.
“Included in the collateral damage of this decision are the new C-130Js for the Air Force Reserve. He is taking hundreds of millions from the funding of these new planes. I will work with my Republican colleagues and use my position on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to ensure this important program gets funded. YARS is a perfect place to land the new C-130J aircrafts, and I will continue to make that case to the United States Air Force,” he said.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper approved the $3.8 billion border wall request from the Department of Homeland Security, and the Pentagon acknowledged that more cuts could be coming to provide additional funding for Trump’s signature campaign promise.
Thursday’s decision only heightened sharp divisions between Trump and members of Congress who have opposed the use of military funding for the wall construction. Trump has repeatedly claimed that Mexico is paying for his promised “big beautiful wall,” but that has never happened.
The Pentagon’s decision, announced in “reprogramming” documents provided to lawmakers, strips money from major aircraft and procurement programs that touch Republican and Democratic districts and states. And it got bipartisan condemnation, including from the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Armed Services Committee.
Despite congressional opposition, Trump faced no consequences when making similar transfers last year, when the Pentagon canceled dozens of military construction projects to free up $3.6 billion and transferred $2.5 billion in counter-drug money.
All together, Trump has obtained just over $3 billion for border barrier construction by working through regular congressional channels, subject to limitations imposed by lawmakers. And he has used various transfer and emergency authorities to shift almost $7 billion more from the emergency declaration, a forfeiture fund containing money seized by law enforcement, and funding for military counter-drug activities.
Bob Salesses, the deputy assistant defense secretary, told reporters on Thursday that this latest plan would build 30-foot fencing on federally controlled land in six border areas: San Diego and El Centro, California; Yuma and Tuscon, Arizona, and El Paso and Del Rio, Texas. He said a review by the Defense Department concluded that all the sectors are “high intensity drug trafficking” areas and that money from military operations and maintenance accounts will be transferred to the counter-drug fund to be used for the barriers, roads and lighting.
DHS last month asked the Pentagon to fund the construction of 271 miles of border wall at a cost of about $5.5 billion, as part of a counter-drug effort. Esper approved a portion of that.
Asked if more defense funding cuts could be forthcoming later this year, Salesses said discussions are ongoing within the department but no decisions have been made. He acknowledged that it is possible more military construction projects could be canceled this year in order to free up funding for the wall.
Last year the Pentagon cut funding from projects such as schools, target ranges and maintenance facilities across 23 states, 19 countries and three U.S. territories. The move, which affected numerous projects in Republican districts and states, triggered outrage on Capitol Hill.
This week Ryan co-led a bipartisan Ohio Congressional Delegation effort to secure these new aircraft for YARS. Ryan was joined by Senators Rob Portman (R) and Sherrod Brown (D) and Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D), Bill Johnson (R), Mike Turner (R), David Joyce (R), Steve Chabot (R), Troy Balderson (R), Steve Stivers (R), Robert Latta (R), Bob Gibbs (R), Brad Wenstrup (R), and Anthony Gonzalez (R).