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Raid the Defense Budget to Build the Wall?

Seth Cropsey

Earlier this month, President Trump graciously told Marines at the Miramar Air Station in San Diego that “we support you, we love you, and we will always have your back.” A few days later the president signed a bill to increase defense spending.

The bill would start to address two problems that face the U.S. military: readiness and modernization. Fatal collisions of U.S. Navy ships in the West Pacific and inordinately high Marine Corps aircraft accident rates demonstrate readiness problems. The ageing of U.S. military equipment and insufficient levels of forces to deter rising potential competitors—such as China—demonstrate the need for modernization.

Yesterday, according to news reports, President Trump suggested that the defense budget should pay $25 billion from just-passed defense funds to pay for the wall he plans to build on the U.S.-Mexican border. This would be a mistake. $25 billion, for example, is approximately the amount that Congress allocated for this year to meet the president’s campaign promise to build a larger combat fleet.

Let’s hope that President Trump reconsiders. He is right that U.S. national security depends on rebuilding our military. But, if he changes his priority, it’s up to Congress to decide. The money that Congress appropriated for defense was meant to address critical problems with our military. Building a wall is not one of these problems. Only Congress has the authority to change how money that was appropriated for one purpose can be applied to another. If the president persists, let’s hope that Congress acts responsibly to stay on course to strengthen America’s military.

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