White House chooses not to use disaster relief funds to pay for border wall construction

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President Donald Trump has made it known over the past week that, should Democrats continue to refuse to negotiate with him on providing funding for border wall construction to end the ongoing partial government shutdown, he has the right to declare a national emergency to bypass Congress and obtain previously appropriated funds for other things to use for the border wall instead.

It had even been suggested in recent days that the Trump administration might consider using unspent disaster relief funds to pay for the border wall, but that plan appears to have been dropped from consideration following substantial bipartisan backlash to the idea.

Considering an unpopular option

The Washington Examiner reported that White House officials had floated the idea to various reporters on Thursday that billions of dollars appropriated to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the purpose of disaster relief — such as hurricane relief in Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico, and wildfire relief in California — could be shifted to fund border wall construction.

However, just a day later on Friday, Trump told reporters that he was, at least as of now, “not looking” to declare a national emergency with regard to the southern border.

Meanwhile, a powerful ally in Congress stepped forward to try and end the wild speculation among the media and others that Trump was about to raid disaster relief funding to get money for the wall.

Republican Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, ranking member on the important House Ways and Means Committee, linked to one such media report and tweeted Thursday evening: “I’ve spoken directly with the White House. Absolutely not true.”

Previously appropriated and unspent funds

The Examiner went on to report that a number of elected Republicans, including members of Congress and governors from states impacted by recent natural disasters, also spoke out against the idea floated by the White House — and it seems their message was received.

If Trump were to proceed with the plan to utilize unspent disaster relief funding for the border wall, he would most likely tap a pool of about $13.9 billion that remains from a February 2018 appropriation for the Army Corps of Engineers, money that has yet to be spent or even obligated toward any specific crisis or disaster.

However, while doing so would technically be a legal and sound avenue to fund the border wall, it would nevertheless create poor optics for the president, grant ammunition to his detractors to use against him, and set a precedent that future presidents may seize upon to use un-obligated pools of appropriated funds as a “slush fund” to pay for whatever particular “crisis” they wanted to deal with without congressional authorization.

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In all likelihood, Trump will refrain from using disaster relief funding to pay for border wall construction.

Instead, he has made it abundantly clear that he is ready and willing to negotiate a  compromise deal with Congressional Democrats to obtain the necessary funding through the appropriations process.

If Democrats don’t want to see this idea of using disaster funding for the border wall, they ought to get back to Washington as soon as possible and actually work out a deal with the president so he won’t feel like he has no other choice but to elevate this to emergency level.

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