White House scrambles to find pots of money to use for wall

WASHINGTON (AP) — If President Donald Trump declares an emergency to build the wall with Mexico, he still needs money to pay for it. And shifting money from other accounts to deliver the USD5.7 billion he wants is not without political problems.

The administration has been eyeing several pots of money — including disaster funds, counternarcotic accounts and military construction dollars — to fund Trump’s wall, according to congressional aides and White House officials.

White House Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney has said there are various accounts available.

One possibility is shifting a portion of the USD13 billion in disaster aid Congress approved last year for Puerto Rico and a dozen states, including California and Texas, hit hard by hurricanes, flooding and other disasters. The money funds Army Corps projects, and the Puerto Rico aid alone totals more than USD2 billion.

But Texas lawmakers revolted over White House plans to tap Hurricane Harvey funds, and Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, said yesterday they won assurances from the White House that the money won’t be used for the wall.

“We’ve been pretty clear we thought that would be a mistake,” said Cornyn, who along with the state’s governor and other lawmakers urged the White House to stay away from that account. “There’s limited pots of money he can get into, but I’m pretty confident he won’t get into disaster funds.”

President Donald Trump with First Lady Melania Trump. – AP

A more likely option is the military construction account that’s used to upgrade bases and facilities.

Congressional aides said there is USD21 billion available. That includes about USD10 billion in funds from the current 2019 fiscal year that ends on September 30, and USD11 billion remaining from the previous four years, said the aides. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorised to speak publicly about the funding details. But tapping the military construction money also may hit resistance. The money often goes for improvements to housing, roads, hospitals and other facilities, and can be used to eliminate mold or other hazardous problems at military installations in congressional districts across the nation and around the globe.

As an example, the aides said, there is funding for a medical facility at a US base in Germany that has been partially constructed. If those funds were used, the medical centre could be left half built.

The president can decide to use military construction funds, but it will be up to the Defence Department to determine which specific projects would lose their money, the aides said.

While the President has the authority to take the funds, the aides said that, according to the law, the money must be used in support of US armed forces, and the key question is whether Trump could prove the funds were being spent to actually support troops.

The Defence Department has declined to provide any details on the amount of money available.

Potentially easier to tap is the military’s counterdrug account, so-called Section 284 money, as suggested by Rep Mark Meadows, R-NC, a Trump ally and leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus. But it falls short of what’s needed with about USD800 million available.