Earlier this week, the Trump administration notified Congress that it is planning to reallocate $3.8 billion out of the Defense Department’s budget to work on border security and building the wall. The action would cut money from the Army, Navy, and Air Force during these tense times with Iran and North Korea. The President acted similarly when he declared a national emergency to reallocate money for the wall back in February of last year. There has been bipartisan disapproval of the President’s actions.
One of the top criticisms is that President Trump is violating Congress’ authority under the US Constitution. Article I Section 8 gives Congress the power “To raise and support Armies…” and Section 9 states that “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law…” The delegation of budgeting power to the legislature did not begin with the Constitution. The practice dates back to the colonial era when the colonial legislatures used the power of the purse to influence the royal governor to abide by their wishes. This long-standing tradition is important for the separation of powers and preservation of the Constitution. If Congress wants to give the president a slush fund to spend on projects of his own choosing, that is their prerogative. However, President Trump draws just criticism for taking previously allocated funds and diverting them to his own personal projects.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Ranking Member of the House Armed Services
Committee strongly criticized the action in a statement:
Congress has the constitutional responsibility to determine how defense dollars are spent. We take the Pentagon’s recommendations seriously during our deliberations, but the final decisions are contained in the bills passed by Congress and signed into law. Once those choices have been made, the Department of Defense cannot change them in pursuit of their own priorities without the approval of Congress. Attempts to do so undermines the principle of civilian control of the military and is in violation of the separation of powers within the Constitution. The re-programming announced today is contrary to Congress’s constitutional authority, and I believe that it requires Congress to take action. … The wall should be funded, but the funding must come through the Department of Homeland Security rather than diverting critical military resources that are needed and in law.
One can believe that a wall and more border security is prudent and wise; however, that does not mean that the President can unilaterally dismiss Congress’ appropriations. This is particularly egregious when Congress specifically chose not to fund the wall. There is no argument that can be made that it was simply forgotten or that Congress would have approved for the DOD money being used for the wall. As George Washington said in his Farewell Address, if we think the Constitution set-up of powers is wrong or imprudent, “let it be corrected by an amendment in the way which the Constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed.”