Senate defense spending bill stalls over border wall fight

By Tony Bertuca / September 18, 2019 at 5:10 PM

Senate Republicans failed today to advance a minibus appropriations package containing the fiscal year 2020 defense spending bill on account of Democrats' objections to funding for President Trump's southern border wall.

The sinking of the minibus, which failed to reach a 60-vote threshold to advance in the Senate, increases pressure on lawmakers to pass a stopgap continuing resolution before government funding expires Oct. 1.

House Democrats, meanwhile, said they intend to soon introduce such a CR that would extend federal funding through Nov. 21. Officials said a vote could happen as early as Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) castigated Democrats for blocking the bill, arguing that funding the military on time is more important than any political concessions Democrats could "extract."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) criticized Democrats for holding the bill "hostage to their liberal agenda."

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Democrats opposed the minibus because Trump and the GOP are "stealing the money from our military and putting it into the wall which he said Mexico would pay for."

Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced it would defer $3.6 billion for 127 military construction programs so the funds could be diverted to build the wall. That money is in addition to $2.5 billion the Pentagon already reprogrammed from other priorities to begin wall construction.

Defense officials say they hope Congress will "backfill" the MILCON funds, but Democrats in the House and Senate have been steadfast in their opposition.

Not a single Democrat voted to advance the FY-20 defense spending bill out of the Senate Appropriations Committee last week because of their objections to the wall funding.