UPDATED: Sen. Reed Says No Wall List From Shanahan
CAPITOL HILL: In his first appearance before Congress since the 2020 defense budget was unveiled, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan clashed with Democratic senators over the use of billions of DoD dollars earmarked for President Trump’s proposed border wall.
The lawmakers weren’t very happy about the administration’s plan to push $98 billion in base funding requests into a wartime account in a gimmick to avoid the budget caps required by the Budget Control Act.
Shanahan, who also marked his first trip to Capitol Hill as the acting Pentagon chief, denied reports that the Trump administration will demand allies pay for all basing costs for US troops on their soil — plus a 50 percent bonus charge. While he dined that, he conceded changes may nevertheless be coming.
“We won’t do cost-plus-50,” Shanahan said. “We’re not going to run a business; and we’re not going to run a charity,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee, adding, “the important part is that people pay their fair share — and payment comes in lots of different forms. It can be contributions, like in Afghanistan.”
It’s unclear what Shanahan or the White House might have in mind, but administration officials have called on allies to send more troops and aid to Syria, where president Trump is intent on reducing the US footprint of about 2,000 soldiers.
Several powerful lawmakers have already proclaimed the Pentagon’s $750 billion budget request for fiscal 2020 — which includes $98 billion in base budget programs shifted to the wartime Overseas Contingency Operations account — “dead on arrival.”
Ranking SASC member Sen. Jack Reed, a West Point grad, slammed the request, saying “overloading the OCO request with $97.9 billion worth of activities that truly belong in the base budget just to avoid the threshold of the BCA caps far exceeds any precedent and cannot be justified.”
One of Shanahan’s sharpest exchanges came when Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat running for president, pointed out that the new OCO request is 140 percent higher than the 2019 request, even though fewer troops are deployed overseas.
“What we are really talking about here is the establishment of a slush fund to hide what is happening with defense spending and get it out from underneath the statutory caps,” she said. “We just need to be honest with the American people about how much we are spending here.”
Shanahan replied “there is no slush fund,” and tried to defend the move, saying the money will support the National Defense Strategy.
Tim Kaine also lambasted the Pentagon’s failure to provide Congress with a list of military construction projects that would be suspended to shift funds to the president’s border wall idea.
“I feel completely sandbagged” by the Pentagon, which has failed to deliver the list of projects to the Senate despite repeated requests, Kaine said.
Angus King, the Maine Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also lit into the failure of Shanahan’s team to deliver more details about military construction delays due to the border wall. “You’ve had a month. Are you testifying that there’s no information you can give us about which construction projects are on the chopping block?” he asked.
“There has not been a deliberate attempt to withhold any information,” Shanahan told lawmakers.
After Senate Armed Services chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe gaveled the hearing closed, he allowed Reed to order Shanahan to deliver a list of projects to be delivered by the end of the day, Thursday.
UPDATE BEGINS “Tonight, the Acting Secretary of Defense informed me he is unable to keep his commitment to share the list of what will be cut to pay for the vanity wall. This unacceptable series of evasions should trouble members of Congress, regardless of political party,” Sen. Reed said in a statement issued at 11:30 Thursday night.
“Diverting funds from our troops and military construction in order to pay for President Trump’s ineffective vanity wall is wrong. It doesn’t make America safer. It hurts our troops, it hurts our military readiness, and it hurts taxpayers, Reed said, pledging to keep after the administration. “I will continue working to make this list public because the American people deserve to know the facts.” UPDATE ENDS
Colin contributed to this story.