Donald Trump is stealing from veterans and endangering the lives of their children to pay for his wall. Only Congress — and Lee Zeldin — can stop him. Mexico was never going to pay for the wall. Like many Americans, I have long been resigned to the fact that Trump would forward the bill for his cruel vanity project to the taxpayers of Long Island. Despite my pessimism, last week’s announcement — that Trump had raided the military budget to pay for 174 miles of border fencing — came as a profound shock.
The long and short of it is this: Congress earmarks around $8 billion a year for the Department of Defense to spend, at its discretion, on construction projects “necessary to support the use of the armed forces.” Typically, this takes the form of base upgrades — improving their security, crisis response capability, or family support facilities such as schools for the families of our troops.
Trump, operating with his usual disdain for his constitutionally defined role and unable to force a Democratic House of Representatives to fund his wall, poached nearly half of this year’s military construction budget — a full $3.6 billion — and redirected it to 11 sites on the border in order to erect 174 miles of “fencing.” The need for a border wall is a different discussion. Congress authorized money specifically to support our military, including and perhaps especially our active troops — and Trump has taken this money away.
So what new facilities and base upgrades has Trump deemed less “necessary?” A fire/crash/rescue station at Florida’s Tyndall Air Force Base; a cyber operations facility at Virginia’s Joint Base Langley-Eustis; renovations for the ambulatory care center at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina — all among dozens of other axed projects once deemed essential by Trump’s own appointees.
On the whole, Puerto Rico, still rebuilding from Hurricane Maria, is set to lose a total of $372 million to the border, while New York is due to be deprived of $160 million, the greatest quantity of any individual U.S. state.
Most egregious of all is Trump’s decision to put the lives and education of our servicemen’s children at risk. Eight schools for dependents of military personnel, scattered across three continents, will no longer be renovated or replaced. Because of Trump, children at Spangdahlem Elementary School in Germany will continue to spend five days a week in a building with faulty electrical equipment, fire alarms, air conditioning and security systems. No Long Island parent would feel safe sending their kid to a school with “missing exit lighting, aging fire alarm systems, doors without closers leading to corridors, and missing visual alarms,” so why are we willing to tolerate Trump forcing the students of Stuttgart Army Base to contend with the same?
Can anyone in good conscience claim that a few miles of fence is more important to the comfort, dignity and safety of our troops than schools for their kids? It is an utter betrayal of our men and women in uniform.
And this has meaning to me, personally. One of the schools being cut is the Fort Campbell middle school in Kentucky, which is losing $62 million earmarked to relieve classroom overcrowding. My mom attended eighth grade at Fort Campbell while my grandfather was on active service, and the quality education she received helped her on her way to medical school and the eventual development of the chicken pox vaccine. To this day, my mom talks about the education and integrated classrooms from her army base schools.
Thankfully, there is a mechanism by which patriotic citizens can find recourse: Congress, which, as per the Constitution, sets the parameters by which its money is spent. By amending the legislation that grants the president “construction authority in the event of a declaration of war or national emergency,” Congress can define the breadth of the president’s discretion. There are dozens of senators and representatives who served in uniform before coming to Capitol Hill. Among their number is Representative Lee Zeldin, the incumbent congressman for the 1st District.
Lee, I ask you this not as a Democrat, nor as a congressional candidate, but as a father, and as a member of a family with a long and proud history of military service. For the sake of your fellow Americans in uniform, and their children, stand up to Trump. Work across the aisle, with veterans from across the political spectrum, to assemble a veto-proof majority. You have the power to act. You asked Long Island to send a vet to Congress. Will you ensure that our tax dollars are restored to the people who deserve them, and not thrown away senselessly in the desert? Will you uphold the responsibilities assigned to your office by the Constitution?