The budget battle between US lawmakers that led to the longest government closure in the country's history has finally ended. On Friday, February 15, 2019, President Donald Trump signed legislation, approved by Congress to fund the government through September 30, 2019, preventing a new shutdown set to begin on Saturday, February 16, 2019.
While the agreement ended months of uncertainty for federal government employees, it did not resolve the issue at the root of the disagreement — full funding for a wall along the US-Mexico border. The approved $1.375 billion, to build 55 miles of new fencing along the border, is far short of the $5.7 billion President Trump demanded at the outset of the spending talks. To make up for the shortfall, a few hours prior to signing the legislation, President Trump declared a "national emergency."
What is a national emergency?
According to the 1976 National Emergencies Act, the US president has the power to declare a national emergency, whenever he/she thinks it is appropriate. The act, however, offers no specific definition of an "emergency" allowing the president to proclaim one entirely at his or her own discretion. Since the law's enactment, 58 national emergencies have been declared many of which are still in effect today. A vast majority have been to impose economic sanctions against foreign nations whose activities present a threat to our national security.
How does a national emergency help President Trump fund the wall?
Among other things, a national emergency declaration allows the president to access federal funds allocated for "noncrucial" projects. According to White House officials, the US leader plans to reallocate $3.6 billion set aside for military construction funding, about $2.5 billion from the Defense Department’s drug-interdiction program, and $600 million from the Treasury Department’s asset-forfeiture fund. The money, together with the $1.375 billion already approved in the current budget, will provide President Trump with ample funds to fulfill his campaign promise of building a bollard-style wall along the US-Mexico border.
How do lawmakers feel about the national emergency?
All lawmakers, including President Trump, who told reporters, "I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this. But I'd rather do it much faster," are convinced the country is under no imminent threat. This has caused some politicians to fear that the unnecessary use of the presidential power will encourage future US leaders to also do the same to accomplish his/her favorite policy goals.
"A Democratic president can declare emergencies, as well," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif) told reporters in the Capitol. "So the precedent that the president is setting here is something that should be met with great unease and dismay by the Republicans."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) concurred, saying, “We have a crisis at our southern border, but no crisis justifies violating the Constitution. Today’s national emergency is border security. But a future president may use this exact same tactic to impose the Green New Deal.”
What happens next?
The 1976 National Emergencies Act allows Congress to override the president's declaration. According to the law, if members of the House pass a resolution to that effect, the Senate has to put the same measure to vote within 18 days. While House Speaker Pelosi certainly plans to take advantage of the regulation by filing a "joint resolution of termination" soon, the chances of it succeeding are uncertain. That's because a president has the power to veto any congressional ruling unless it has been approved by a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate. While most members of the Democrat-controlled House will undoubtedly vote to override the president's decision, the same cannot be said about the Republican-controlled Senate.
The president's decision will also be challenged in the courts. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has announced they plan to file a lawsuit challenging the declaration of national emergency in the coming weeks. If Congress's to revoke the declaration fails, House Democrats may join the legal action or perhaps even file a separate lawsuit.
Given that a presidential national emergency declaration has never been contested before, nobody knows what the outcome will be. The good news, however, is that the government workers are no longer in the middle of this on-going spat between the US politicians.
Resources: SFgate.com, AlJazeera.com, CNN.com,Wikipedia.org.