The Trump administration’s move to “reprogram” Pentagon money to build Trump’s promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has been the subject of a long-running dispute between the administration and Congress. Lawmakers of both parties have objected, but the administration contends that it can move the Pentagon’s money without congressional approval.
Now, Senate Republicans, led by Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), have taken the opportunity presented by the coronavirus stimulus package to restore spending for some of the programs Republicans deem most critical — although Democratic objections make it uncertain whether the money will make it into a final bill.
Included in the GOP proposal are some of the $3.8 billion in Pentagon programs canceled in a “reprogramming” notice the Trump administration released this year.
In one example, the administration sought to zero out a $261 million account for the Navy’s Expeditionary Fast Transport ship. The coronavirus bill would put $260 million back into this program. The ship is built by Austal USA, based in Shelby’s home state, Alabama.
The administration’s reprogramming notice also took $180 million from the budget for the Navy’s P-8A Poseidon aircraft, saying there were already enough planes and describing it as a “congressional special interest item.” The new bill would put more than $1 billion into the P-8A program.
The Trump administration’s reprogramming notice redirected $365 million from the Air Force’s C-130J aircraft program. The coronavirus bill would put $720 million into that program.
Another Air Force program, for the F-35 aircraft, also was targeted for a $156 million cut by the Trump administration this year. The coronavirus package includes $686 million for additional F-35As.
Apart from the money aimed at restoring programs that were cut to pay for the wall, the coronavirus bill includes money for an array of other weapons systems, as well as money to help the Pentagon defray costs related to the coronavirus. That includes about $10 billion for a program aimed at reimbursing contractors for costs incurred keeping workers on the payroll when they had to shut down.
A Shelby aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal thinking, defended the spending in the bill as necessary to support programs important to the Pentagon and members of Congress — and to protect jobs that might otherwise be lost as Pentagon operations slow because of the coronavirus.
“It protects all of the downstream supplier base, and those are the places that are hurting the worst,” the aide said.
House Democrats, however, made clear that they do not support the Pentagon spending in the Senate GOP’s package.
“While doing nothing to address food security or provide payroll protection for state and local workers in critical jobs, Senate Republicans have instead splurged on weapons systems,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.). “Amphibious ships don’t feed hungry children, and the Senate Republican bill doesn’t meet the desperate needs of the American people.”