Washington — Congress approved nearly $72.3 million to build a new pier at Naval Submarine Base New London, but the money may be snatched away to help build President Donald Trump’s wall along the Rio Grande.
The money for the pier, the largest construction funding appropriated for the Groton sub base in years, is among $10.5 billion Congress appropriated for military construction at U.S. bases across the nation and overseas, money that is spent on housing and schools, airplane hangars, base training centers — and new piers for submarines.
But because Congress only approved about $1.4 billion for the border wall project, Trump is preparing to divert $7.2 billion in Pentagon funding for construction of the barrier this year.
The money would be drawn from military construction, or milcon, projects and Pentagon counter-narcotics funding. The administration plans to siphon $3.7 billion from military construction projects and $3.5 billion from military counter-drug programs.
This would be the second time Trump diverts Pentagon money for his wall.
Last year, 127 military construction projects across 23 states, three U.S. territories and 20 countries were sidelined to pay for Trump’s border wall.
The administration has not yet released a specific list of projects they plan to target this year.
This means all projects are on the table, including the proposed new pier at the submarine base, which is needed to accommodate the larger Virginia-class submarines Electric Boat is building under its new contract with the Navy.
“Trying to figure out what the criteria is for reprogramming is a mystery,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District. “The administration is just reaching into milcon.”
Courtney said he has discussed the fate of the pier’s funding with base officials and they have determined “the quicker the funds can be obligated, the better.”
That means the quicker the Navy can commit the money to contracts to build the pier, the more protected that funding will be.
“Hopefully there is some ranking of projects as far as national security,” said Courtney, the chairman of the House Armed Services seapower subcommittee.
If that were the case, Courtney said, the submarine fleet would be high on that ranking.
The diversion of Pentagon money has angered Democrats and unsettled a number of Republicans who have important construction projects in their districts and states.
“The president intends to double down on his smash-and-grab strategy of funding his border wall. To say this is unacceptable and infuriating would be an understatement,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
On the campaign trail, Trump said Mexico would pay for a wall along the southern border. But that seemed unlikely and never came to pass.
So Trump turned to Congress for funding. After Democrats successfully blocked appropriating most of the money the president said is needed to build his wall, Trump then used what he determined were his emergency powers to reallocate money in the Pentagon’s budget.
Last year, Republican lawmakers pressed for “backfilling,” or replacing, the money for the $3.6 billion worth of construction projects that lost their funding in this year’s budget. But Democrats stood firm and prevailed in their refusal to replace that money, arguing Trump’s action violates constitutionally mandated power of the purse.
A similar showdown is expected if Trump follows through on his plan to raid military construction money again this year.
That means that if the pier money is diverted to build the border wall, it may be hard to replace.
There’s a concern the maintenance of military facilities is falling behind. Military construction projects currently have a $116 billion backlog. And the reprograming of Pentagon funds has also riled immigrant advocacy groups that oppose the creation of a border wall.
One of those groups, America’s Voice, is running ads against several GOP senators up for re-election, including Martha McSally of Arizona, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and John Cornyn of Texas. Those lawmakers have home state military projects that are vulnerable to reprograming, but have supported Trump’s claim he has emergency powers to divert funding.