U.S. Army Corps of Engineers South Pacific Border District contractors remove existing fencing in preparation for the El Paso 5 border barrier project near Fabens, Texas, June 30, 2020. (Photo by Robert DeDeaux/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, South Pacific Border District)

House Appropriations Bills for DHS, DoD, VA Block Use of Funds for Border Wall

The House Appropriations Committee passed on a party-line vote Tuesday a $694.6 billion defense spending bill that would ban the use of Pentagon funds on a border wall, and the following day approved a fiscal year 2021 Department of Homeland Security funding bill that also includes no money to build a wall.

Both bills passed the committee 30-22.

The FY 2021 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill, which passed 30-20 through the committee July 9 and is rolled into a four-agency (States, USDA, Interior and VA) minibus scheduled to be considered by the House next week, would block the administration from using military construction funds on a border wall.

“We have the most capable and advanced military in the world, and this bill honors their mission by adequately funding programs to care for service members and their families, and by including provisions to end the Trump administration’s theft of defense funds to pay for a wasteful border wall,” Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said after passage of the defense funding bill.

House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) bristled at the Pentagon’s transfer of funds for wall construction without congressional approval; this bill would limit the department’s transfers between accounts at $1.9 billion. “The sense of entitlement in these actions is galling, and I hope that at some point the department will have the leadership in place who recognize Congress’ constitutional prerogative and restore trust to the appropriations process,” Visclosky said.

The top Republican on the Defense Subcommittee, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), said the transfer limit as well as the border wall funding ban would trigger a veto from President Trump. The bill also allocates funds to change Confederate names at Army bases; Trump has publicly said he would veto a defense bill over this.

A GOP amendment to remove the border wall prohibition from the bill failed 21-31. Border Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) cast the lone Republican dissenting vote.

The $50.72 billion DHS funding bill passed by the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday includes $1.24 billion above the budget request for FEMA, and also blocks border wall spending. It would also double funding from the previous fiscal year for the Office of Immigration Detention Ombudsman, provides $14 million for body cameras for Border Patrol agents, and allocates $75 million for environmental mitigation of border barrier construction. The bill also stipulates a phase-out 0f family detention by Immigration and Customs Enforcement by the end of this year and provides $146.7 million above the budget request to explore alternatives to detention. While ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations would get $1.12 billion below the 2020 enacted level of funding, ICE Homeland Security Investigations would get $220.1 million above the FY20 level.

Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairwoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) said she was “proud that we’ve included important measures to help keep the administration transparent and accountable to Congress, providing no authority to transfer funds between accounts and only limited authority to reprogram funds within accounts, and withholding funds from the administration if they fail to submit reports to the committee.”

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), the ranking member on the Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, told colleagues at the markup of the bill, “I know it seems like forever ago, but we suffered an extensive shutdown over this same issue.” While recognizing “that the department is more than just CBP and ICE,” he urged committee members to vote against the bill.

“It would be foolish not to learn from our past. We must provide funds for the programs that will allow us to get this bill enacted,” Fleischmann said. “Let me be clear, to this committee and to the American people. The wall is being built. The wall is being built at about one half mile per day. It will continue to be built and it will be built for the benefit and security of our nation.”

As of June, 216 miles of border barriers have been built, mostly replacing existing fencing that was aging or falling apart. Only about three miles of the new bollard fencing has been built along the border where no barriers previously existed. The project has cost about $15 billion.

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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