Durbin: Congress Must Stand Up To The President's Continued Infringement Of Congress's Power Of The Purse

In today’s Appropriations Committee markup, Durbin offered amendments to stop the diversion of military funds to the President’s border wall; to require the Admin to spend the aid to Ukraine that Congress approved in this funding bill; and to reinforce that our service members remain insulated from politics

WASHINGTON – In today’s Senate Appropriations Committee markup, U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, did not support reporting to the floor the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee funding bill because of President Donald Trump’s continued infringement of Congress’s power of the purse by taking essential funds from our military and their families in order to pay for his ineffective border wall.  Just last week, the Department of Defense announced it will divert $3.6 billion from military construction projects to pay for President Trump’s border wall.

“If we are told by the Department of Defense when they open their bid for next year’s spending, ‘We need every dollar.’  And then at the end of the day, some $7 billion is found in mad money, loose change, couch cushion accounts – I don’t know what it is – but it just seems to be exactly what the President needs for his quixotic quest for his glorious wall,” Durbin said.  “So we are being taken for a ride here, for at least $7 billion in cushion money that this President is going to bring out of this budget if he needs it to keep building a wall.”

In today’s Committee markup, Durbin, along with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), offered an amendment to stop the diversion of military funds to the President’s ineffective border wall.  It failed to pass the Committee by a party-line vote of 15-16. 

Durbin also offered an amendment to require the Trump Administration to spend the additional aid to Ukraine that Congress approved in this funding bill.  Last night, the White House released its hold on $250 million that Congress had appropriated in Fiscal Year 2019 to support Ukraine.  However, the White House’s longstanding hold may still have the effect of denying Ukraine these funds, as the Defense Department can’t answer whether or not the funds can be spent before they expire on September 30, 2019.  This comes on the heels of the White House’s decision to also take away $770 million in funding from European military construction projects meant to push back on Russia’s influence in the region. 

“These amendments are important on their merits, but they also go to the heart of why we are here – members of the Appropriations Committee and members of the Senate.  We are supposed to review budget requests.  We need to have the confidence that we are making decisions that truly reflect the American people’s sentiment and truly help our defense of America. When we write an appropriations law, we should believe that it means something – that no president, Republican or Democrat, can just ignore us,” Durbin said.  “Unless the Appropriations Committee can stand up to defend its role under our Constitution, I fear that our good work will be undermined by this President and future Administrations.”

Durbin also offered an amendment to reinforce the fact that our service members remain insulated from politics.  The Defense Department’s Directive on this subject, “Political Activity by Members of the Armed Forces,” reads in part, “members on active duty should not engage in partisan political activity, and that members not on active duty should avoid inferences that their political activities imply or appear to imply official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement...”  Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and incoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, have recently made public comments reiterating the importance of this principle.  Durbin’s amendment passed by voice vote.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks in Committee is available here.