NICHOLS COLUMN: Trump's fund grab robs Wisconsin
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NICHOLS COLUMN: Trump's fund grab robs Wisconsin

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Donald Trump promised his supporters that Mexico would pay for his vanity project along the southern border of the United States: “a great wall” that he has variously claimed will “secure the border,” block “unlawful entrants” and “stop much of the drugs from pouring into this country.” Despite fact-checks that dispute his claims, Trump pursues the wall fantasy — especially when elections are looming and he needs to rally his base.

But one thing has changed. While the president is loathe to acknowledge this particular fact, he has decided to make others pay for his wall. Who? Wisconsin manufacturers and workers.

Last week, Trump’s Pentagon issued a “reprogramming” notice that says it will shift $3.8 billion in funding away from planned projects in order to build additional sections of the border wall.

“The president’s unilateral action takes $101 million that was appropriated by Congress for Oshkosh Defense to build heavy-wheeled defense vehicles for the Army,” noted the office of U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, who worked to secure the funding for the Oshkosh initiative and other defense projects that support jobs in the region.

“President Trump promised the people of Wisconsin that Mexico would pay for his border wall and now he is making American taxpayers fund it,” Baldwin said. “Wisconsin manufacturers strengthen our national defense and create jobs, but Trump is taking funding away from our economy and the workers that build it.”

The president’s move has inspired bipartisan objections.

For her part, Baldwin joined a group of senators in writing to Defense Secretary Mark Esper about their concerns that the “reprogramming” will undermine national security and poison relations between the White House and Congress when it comes to budgeting. They noted that this is the third time in less than a year that the Pentagon has moved unilaterally to bypass Congress.

“We are dismayed that the Department decided to target congressional increases to a vast number of critical programs, from aircraft to ships, including the perennially-underfunded Army National Guard, Air National Guard, and other Reserve Components,” the senators wrote. “The raid on this funding is quite simply an attack on the efforts to ensure our citizen-soldiers are prepared to respond to disasters, both overseas and in nearly every community in all fifty states and four territories.”

Like many senators in both parties, Baldwin sought to address concerns about waste, fraud and abuse in military budgets by working with experts on budgeting, military leaders and contractors to identify projects that are necessary. When the Trump administration and its cronies tear up budgets that have been approved by Congress in order to find billions for the border wall, they abandon fiscal responsibility.

They also abandon workers, in communities such as Oshkosh.

And Trump is far from finished with his raids on funding that was supposed to come to Wisconsin. As Baldwin’s office explained, “in January, it was reported that President Trump intends to raid $7.2 billion from military funds this year to pay for his wall, diverting funding from military families and forcing American taxpayers to pay for his vanity project and failed campaign promise.”

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times in Madison. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising.

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