Sens. Mike Lee Mitt Romney

U.S. Sens. Mike Lee, left, and Mitt Romney, right, Republicans from Utah.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Some $54 million in funding to two Hill Air Force Base projects will be diverted to aid in the construction of the wall between the United States and Mexico, per the call by President Donald Trump for beefed-up border security.

The news sparked concern Wednesday from Utah’s two U.S. senators, both Republicans. More specifically, in a joint statement, Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee decried the means used to divert the funds, part of $3.6 billion to be pulled from a range of U.S. military projects in response to a presidential declaration last February of a national emergency along the border.

“Funding the border wall is an important priority, and the executive branch should use the appropriate channels in Congress rather than divert already appropriated funding away from military construction projects and therefore undermining military readiness,” Romney said in a statement.

Lee couched his criticism in what he sees as the gradual chipping away of power from Congress.

“Congress has been ceding far too much powers to the executive branch for decades and it is far past time for Congress to restore the proper balance of power between the three branches,” Lee said.

The turn of events sparked a stronger response from some congressional Democrats, according to the Associated Press.

AP quoted U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman, a Democrat from Florida, as calling Trump’s plans “his xenophobic border wall boondoggle.” The Democratic-led House, she continued, “will not backfill any projects (Trump) steals from today.”

Lee and Romney expressed concerns about the potential diversion to U.S. defense officials last April, Romney said. Their concerns notwithstanding, the loss of the funds isn’t necessarily permanent.

“Congress will have an opportunity to restore this funding in the next budget cycle, and I plan to work with the delegation to fight for funding for these projects, which are essential to Utah’s service members and our national security strategy,” Romney said.

The diversion impacts $26 million that had been earmarked for Hill’s Composite Aircraft Antenna Calibration Facility and $28 million that was to go to Hill’s Utah Test and Training Range Consolidated Mission Control Center. The Trump administration has indicated it plans to seek replacement funding in the fiscal year 2020 budget request, said the statement from Lee and Romney.

News of diversion of the $3.6 billion came in a letter Tuesday from U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper to U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, chairman of the Committee on Armed Services. NPR published the letter.

The funding is to help build or reconstruct 175 miles of wall along the southern border, according to The Washington Post.

The planned projects “will deter illegal entry, increase the vanishing time of those illegally crossing the border and channel migrants to ports of entry,” Esper said in his letter. “They will reduce the demand for (Department of Defense) personnel and assets at the locations where the barriers are constructed and allow the redeployment of DoD personnel and assets to other high-traffic areas on the border without barriers.”

To address his concern that Congress has been losing power to the executive branch, Lee called for passage of the Article One Act, which he introduced last March. The measure would end certain emergency declarations after 30 days without a congressional extension.

In a letter from Romney and Lee on the potential loss of funds to defense officials last April, the senators singled out their concerns about the loss of funding to the Consolidated Mission Control Center, or CMCC.

“The CMCC is critical to maintaining fighter pilot combat readiness, sustaining fifth-generation aircraft and preparing our Air Force to face any threat against the United States,” reads the letter. “Diverting funds from this necessary upgrade will have a severe and unacceptable impact on our military readiness at a time when the U.S. faces increased threats around the world.”

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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