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Senators Romney, Lee react to Hill Air Force Base funding diversion

A F-35A Lightning II takes off at Hill Air Force Base during the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings' combat power exercise where they launched 35 F-35A Lightning IIs within a condensed period of time in Ogden on Monday, Nov. 19, 2018. Photo: Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Senators Mitt Romney and Mike Lee, both Republicans, say diverting funding away from Hill Air Force Base to build a southern border wall is the wrong move.

The senators issued a joint statement indicating their displeasure with Congress. The funding, appropriated by Congress for military construction projects at Hill Air Force Base, will instead be spent to build a wall on the southern border.

A political firestorm in the making

The diversion comes from President Trump’s February 2019 emergency declaration. At the time, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, said emergency declarations should be for “major natural disasters or catastrophic events” only. She said its use would be of “dubious constitutionality.”

In addition to siphoning money for the wall from military construction projects, Mr. Trump’s declaration targeted counterdrug efforts.

Protecting Hill Air Force Base projects

Lee and Romney spoke out against diverting funds from Hill once before.

“In April, Senator Lee and I expressed our significant concerns to the Secretary of Defense,” Romney said in the joint statement.

“I’m disappointed that despite those concerns, two key military construction projects totaling $54 million will be delayed as a result of the February 2019 emergency declaration,” Romney continued.

The projects placed on hold at Hill Air Force Base include a Composite Aircraft Antenna Calibration Facility and the Utah Test and Training Range Consolidated Mission Control Center.

The balance of powers

The senators used their joint statement to call out Congress for “ceding far too much power to the executive branch.” They argue Congress should begin the process of restoring the balance of power by passing the ARTICLE ONE Act.

The ARTICLE ONE Act, introduced by Lee and co-sponsored by Romney, would automatically end all future emergency declarations made pursuant to the NEA after 30 days unless Congress voted affirmatively to extend the emergency.

In February, Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers in sponsoring a similar bill called the Guarding Congressional Authority Act. It stalled out before reaching any committees.

Currently, Congress can cancel an emergency declaration only by passing a resolution that can withstand a presidential veto.