Congressional investigators said Tuesday that President Joe Biden’s pause of more than $1 billion in funds for southwest border wall construction did not violate the law as some Republican lawmakers had claimed.
Instead, the Government Accountability Office said withholding the funds from obligation is a “programmatic delay” that is allowed under the 1974 law establishing the modern budget process. That’s different from a previous finding that President Donald Trump’s administration violated the budget law when holding up Ukraine military assistance in 2019, which led to impeachment proceedings against the former president.
Biden campaigned on ending construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, and on his first day in office, Jan. 20, he issued a proclamation stopping wall construction and withholding obligation of funds to build it. Biden also ended a “national emergency” that Trump had declared to enable the White House to shift defense, military construction and other funds to wall-building.
The GAO said the Department of Homeland Security has almost fully obligated remaining appropriated funds for the wall from previous fiscal years up to fiscal 2020. But the legislative agency said DHS has not yet obligated the $1.375 billion in funds appropriated for fiscal 2021.
A Democratic aide said the wall appropriations do not expire for five years, meaning the $1.375 billion for fiscal 2021 would not expire until the end of fiscal 2026.
Republican lawmakers cried foul when Biden held up the funds, saying he had violated a budget law that bars presidents from impounding or withholding appropriated funds except in specific circumstances.
In his fiscal 2022 budget, Biden asked Congress to rescind or cancel $1.9 billion in remaining border barrier funds from prior appropriations. A report issued by the administration last week said the funds to be canceled would instead be used “for modern, privacy-protective, and effective border management measures like enhanced technology between points of entry and improve infrastructure at Land Ports of Entry.”
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