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By using military to build wall, Trump breaks 'single, biggest campaign promise,' Democrat says

Rep. Adam Smith D-Wash., at a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. Smith, the ranking Democrat for the armed services committee, said there’s also bipartisan support to stop Trump from using military funds or servicemembers to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By CLAUDIA GRISALES | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 12, 2018

WASHINGTON — Rep. Adam Smith, who’s expected to take over as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee next month, said President Donald Trump is breaking his single, biggest campaign promise by trying to use the military to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Smith, D-Wash., who made the comments during a breakfast meeting with reporters on Wednesday, said there’s also bipartisan support to stop Trump from using military funds or servicemembers to build the wall by installing such a provision into future defense spending legislation.

Smith, the ranking Democrat for the armed services committee, also highlighted of the $1.6 billion directed to border security funding in last year’s budget, only 6 percent has been spent.

Trump’s border “rhetoric is designed to use fear,” the lawmaker told reporters attending a roundtable discussion at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington, D.C. “Our troops are not needed to secure the border.” Smith also said Trump has misled the American public by breaking his promise that Mexico, not the United States, would pay for the building of the southern border wall.

Now, Trump is threatening a partial government shutdown when funding runs out Dec. 21 as part of his ongoing demands for a $5 billion border wall. About 25 percent of the government could be affected by a shutdown, though that does not include the Defense Department. The move could force furloughs, however, for the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice and others.

Trump’s “single, biggest campaign promise was we wouldn’t pay for it,” Smith said. So “why in the name of God are we shutting down the U.S. government because we won’t pay for it? Why is he breaking his promise?”

During his comments, Smith also said the military is facing an unrealistic set of demands driving interests for a massive defense budget for fiscal year 2020.

“We’ve got too many missions, we’ve got too much we are trying to do,” he said.

However, Smith said he has no interest in cutting funding for readiness.

Though the Defense Department budget is set for late into 2019, it’s next spending plan remains a moving target. And with a split Congress angling for different budget priorities next year, it could insert a new level of drama for the fiscal year 2020 budget.

The process for building the 2020 budget, which begins Oct. 1, 2019, was also thrown into confusion this fall when President Donald Trump suggested a 4.7 percent slash in spending for the Defense Department to $700 billion.

But Smith suggested Wednesday coming up with a more realistic figure in light of the escalating U.S. deficit and debt and impossible list of demands for the military.

“What’s the overall number going to be?” he asked. “We are going to have to have other priorities in addition to defense.”

The Trump administration had originally projected a $733 billion spending plan for 2020.

Last week, Politico reported the Pentagon convinced Trump to revise the figure again, but this time to $750 billion.

“It didn’t surprise me, the president moves all around,” Smith said of the new $750 billion figure. He “listens to the last person he talked to.”

However, there are still plenty of obstacles to overcome before lawmakers can reach a spending deal.

When lawmakers return for a new congressional session in January, with Democrats in control of the House, they will need to address spending caps slated to return in 2020 under the Budget Control Act.

The spending cap is slated to decrease the defense budget to $576 billion for 2020, if no action is taken.

During his comments, Smith also said Democrats, when they take control of the House in January, can work to ensure the military can be more inclusive, such as helping fight Trump demands to bar transgender individuals from serving.

He also lauded efforts to ban U.S. aid to Saudi Arabia in its ongoing war in Yemen, saying while a Senate move to approve a resolution Wednesday to that effect may not change the situation there, it will raise pressure on the Trump administration to rethink its strategy in the war-torn nation.

In recent weeks, Smith has campaigned openly to take over the top leadership role for the House Armed Services Committee, which helps shape policy and spending at the Pentagon, such as the annual defense budget and military oversight.

The fate of an ongoing military buildup, war oversight, veterans affairs and decisions on who can enlist in the service will now rest with the split Congress when it convenes next month. Following the results of November’s midterm elections, voters elected a majority of Democrats to the 435-member House of Representatives. Republicans retained control of the 100-member Senate.

Democrats are also likely to fight a Trump-proposed spending spree for “low-yield” nukes, the creation of a new, costly “Space Force” branch and an ongoing push for legislation revamping the president’s war powers.

In an open letter to his Democratic colleagues last month declaring his interest to take over as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Smith said it was time for more vigorous oversight of the Trump administration and the Defense Department. He also said it was critical that servicemembers and their families continue to have access to quality benefits, assistance programs and medical care.

Among the priorities, Smith said lawmakers must look to eliminate inefficiency and waste at the Pentagon, boost oversight of sensitive military operations and ensure the military works to avoid civilian casualties. Also, there must be more focus on protecting environmental laws, advancing green technology use in defense, reduce America’s overreliance on nuclear weapons and boost transparency in national security matters.

“Together, we have made strides on national security issues but much more must be done,” Smith said in the Nov. 8 letter asking for his colleagues’ support. Also, “it is important that we have a military that reflects the United States in all of its diversity as well as a Defense Department that engages with businesses of all sizes and from all communities.”

grisales.claudia@stripes.com
Twitter: @cgrisales

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