Tribune Editorial: President’s wall only divides Republicans

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Capt. Tyler McBride of the 388th fighter wing at Hill AFB answers questions as he stands in front of the F-35A Lightning II at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden Friday September 8, 2017.

It may be the only way to get Republicans in Congress to disagree with the Republican in the White House. Have the president take away some spending that was earmarked for a military project in their state or district.

That’s what happened the other day when the administration announced that it was taking $3.6 billion worth of cash that Congress had designated for a long list of Department of Defense construction projects across the nation and putting it toward the president’s offensive and ineffective dream of a wall that will separate the United States from Mexico.

Of that, some $54 million is being taken from two projects approved for Utah’s Hill Air Force Base. That was enough to earn the reproach of Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, if for slightly different reasons. Though, somewhat surprisingly, Rep. Rob Bishop, in whose district Hill sits, is raising no fuss. He is confident that the money for a shop that would calibrate antennas and for an installation to watch over the Utah Test and Training Range will eventually be restored.

And the money probably will be put back, given that every military project Congress so much as grins at becomes something that cannot be questioned. Slowing down anything in the military spending pipeline, as Romney and others are eager to tell us, amounts to “undermining military readiness.”

Which, in some cases, it might. But because that gets said about everything the Pentagon wants — as well as about some things the Pentagon didn’t want but defense contractors or members of Congress do — it is difficult for the public to make an informed judgement.

Which is part of the reason why military spending in fiscal 2020 will add up to some $750 billion, with other security-related line items pushing the total to about $1 trillion. Enough of a deep well, one might think, that, were a border wall really necessary, the money could be found.

But a border wall is not only not necessary, it is a particularly bad idea that the president will just not let go of. It won’t stop illegal immigration, end the flow of migrants and legitimate asylum candidates from war-torn and impoverished nations or have any impact on people who fly, drive or walk here legally and just overstay their visas.

First, the president said that Mexico would pay for the wall. Then he tried to get Congress to cough up the funds, and he even shut down the government for 35 days early this year when it wouldn’t go along.

Now the president has invoked something called the National Emergencies Act, which, he argues, allows him to seize money specifically appropriated by Congress for other purposes and spend it instead on his monument to xenophobia.

That move reasonably triggered Lee to repeat his call for the National Emergencies Act to be tightened up, giving the president less unfettered discretion over spending decisions that properly belong to Congress.

Which, under the current circumstances, would be both a good idea and an impossible dream.

In a $1 trillion bucket, a Congress and an administration that really cared about balancing our national needs and wants could almost certainly take money from lower priorities and give it to higher priorities. The highest priority in this case being not a wall but a smaller Pentagon budget and, in the process, a not-so-much-larger national debt.

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