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Trump oversteps his authority in moving defense funds to wall

President Trump’s decision to again transfer funding approved by Congress for the nation’s defense and use it for his southern border wall is alarming. His move to curtail the planned expansion of the U.S Navy fleet is confusing.

Such is the nature of the current administration — alarming and confusing.

Last week, the Trump administration announced it was diverting nearly $3.9 billion in military funding — from the 2020 defense budget the president signed only Dec. 20 — to pay for continued construction of a wall between Mexico and the United States. You know, the one he promised on the campaign trail in 2016 that Mexico would fund.

The honest way to do this would have been for the president to refuse to sign the defense budget and make the case that more funding should be directed to the wall. Unfortunately for the president, it is not only Mexico that has no interest in paying for the wall, but also Congress, Democrats and Republicans, who recognize that the wall may have political value to the president but not to national security.

So instead of doing his duty as chief executive to use the funds as directed by Congress, which under the Constitution is given the power of the purse, Trump is using the money as he sees fit. Politics aside, anyone who recognizes the importance of adhering to the constitutional separation of powers should be alarmed.

The Washington Post reports the administration has plans to eventually divert $7.2 billion from the Pentagon budget. That could endanger plans for a new $72 million pier at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton. Last year, the president failed to faithfully execute the duties of his office when he diverted $6.1 billion to his border project. Trump’s actions are being challenged in federal courts, where judges must not allow this abuse of presidential power to stand.

Rerouted to the wall will be $1.3 billion approved by Congress for National Guard readiness; $389 million intended for fighter planes; and $2.2 billion to fund the Pentagon’s counter-narcotics program, the latter diversion coming at a time when opiates are flooding our communities and contributing to a health crisis of addiction and overdoses.

Cuts to the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter program could cost Connecticut jobs. The engines are built by Pratt & Whitney.

Confusing is the administration’s proposal in its 2021 defense budget request to build only one Virginia-class attack submarine instead of the original two planned. The Trump White House also recommends building just six new surface warships, rather than the 10 previously proposed. All of this contradicts the stated goal, set by the Navy and previously adopted by the administration in its National Defense Strategy, to expand the 294-ship Navy to 355 ships over the next 28 years.

The White House may have good reasons, but if so it has not explained them to Congress. The administration has not complied with the federal law that its ship-building plan accompany its budget request. Meanwhile a briefing on the Navy’s force structure assessment, planned last week for the House Seapower Subcommittee, was canceled and not rescheduled.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, who chairs the Seapower Subcommittee, has asked Defense Secretary Mark Esper to provide the strategic reasoning for cutting an attack submarine from the budget request.

Expect Congress to restore much of this funding. If so, perhaps this president won’t be around in 2021 to again divert it.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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