The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a $789 billion defense spending package that included what GOP leaders are referring to as a “down payment” on President Donald Trump’s border wall.
The “Make America Secure Appropriations Act” passed with a 235-192 vote, allocating more than $685 in funding–or roughly 80 percent of the bill’s budget–directly to the Pentagon. This exceeds Congress’ spending limits imposed in 2011, requiring lawmakers to strike a budget deal in the fall to approve the higher allocation.
One of the bill’s most controversial provisions was the inclusion of nearly $1.6 billion to build 70 miles of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump has long maintained that the Mexican government would somehow pay for his much-discussed border wall. U.S. taxpayers will instead foot the bill—and in an unexpected twist, it will be on the backs of transgender service members.
Trump on Wednesday tweeted that based on consultations with “generals and military experts,” the United States will no longer “accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.” The announcement, which does not constitute a legally binding policy change, seemed to come out of nowhere. But according to Politico, it was Trump’s last-ditch effort make at least one of his many failed campaign promises come to fruition.
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An “internal House Republican fight over transgender troops was threatening to blow up” the defense spending package, Politico reported. “Because defense hawks wanted a ban on Pentagon-funded sex reassignment operations—something GOP leaders wouldn’t give them.” The initial ask by GOP leaders was for Trump to address gender reassignment surgery and other medical treatment. Instead, Trump banned trans people from the military, effectively expelling thousands who currently serve.
Trump asserted in his tweets that transgender people “burdened” the military with “tremendous medical costs.” A 2016 RAND Corporation study commissioned by the Pentagon found that allowing transgender people to openly serve in the military increases health care costs by a mere 0.04 to 0.13 percent.
Total military spending on erectile dysfunction medicines amounts to $84 million annually, according to an analysis by the Military Times—ten times the cost of annual transition-related medical care for active duty transgender service members, the Washington Post reported. Even a generous estimate of transition-related care for trans service members is just $8.4 million a year. Meanwhile, the president cost taxpayers an estimated $20 million during his first 80 days in office for traveling to Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Florida.
Trump has scapegoated an already vulnerable population in order to help pay for a border wall that already exists, is already heavily militarized, and will cost—even at its lowest estimate—more than three times the $8 million Trump has estimated.
President Obama spent the entirety of his presidency reinforcing the border in ways Trump is only attempting to bolster under his proposals.
Under Obama, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funneled unprecedented resources to security at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to an Obama administration website. There were 3,000 additional Border Patrol agents along the southwest border, as border fencing, unmanned aircraft surveillance systems, and ground surveillance systems more than doubled since 2008. Obama in 2010 signed a $600 million bill to acquire two aerial surveillance drones and hire an additional 1,500 Border Patrol agents and law enforcement officials along the country’s southern border. That bill that was “quickly passed by Congress in a rare display of bipartisanship,” Democracy Now reported.
Before Thursday’s vote, a coalition of more than 200 national advocacy organizations sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to oppose the defense spending package and Trump’s border wall funding.
The coalition, called the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, characterized the provision as “wasteful” and “unnecessary.”
“At a time when border apprehensions have hit historic lows over the past two decades, new border wall construction would put immigrant lives at greater risk, increase the risk of human trafficking, and disrupt the lives of border communities,” the letter read. “At the same time, it would divert finite resources away from disaster relief, Coast Guard funding, and other programs that do promote national security.”
Five House Democrats voted for Trump’s defense spending package, including two from Arizona, a border state. The spending package is expected to fail in the U.S. Senate this fall.