Kudos to the Pentagon for shedding more light on an enduring mystery of Donald Trump’s administration: Who will pay for building a wall along the 2,000-mile U.S. border with Mexico?

The answer: Not Mexico, as the president has frequently declaimed, but American taxpayers — at the expense of the nation’s defense.

The Defense Department recently sent lawmakers a list of about $3.6 billion in military construction projects that would be deferred to pay for Trump’s wall. This diversion comes on top of the $601 million the administration has redirected from the Treasury Department’s forfeiture fund and an additional $2.5 billion it has hijacked from the Pentagon’s other priorities.

This is worse than just budget gimmickry. Weigh the value of the wall against some of the programs that Trump is deferring or potentially eliminating: updating the ground infrastructure for the Minuteman III ballistic missile, training and equipping Afghan security forces, dismantling chemical weapons, or improving radar for airborne warning planes. The $3.6 billion in construction funds would have gone to building or improving facilities such as a cyber-operations center in Virginia, small arms firing ranges and combat training sites in a half-dozen states, ammunition storage bunkers, aircraft and vehicle hangars, and military clinics, as well as expanding missile defense in Alaska. More than half would’ve hardened aircraft shelters, extended runways, and built fuel storage facilities and schools for military families at U.S. bases overseas.

Congress has rightly and repeatedly refused to provide most of the $13.3 billion that Trump has requested for a wall that promises to be a boondoggle. Building a barrier on that scale would waste tax dollars, invite legal challenges, trample on property rights, and create a standing monument to American intolerance. It would do next to nothing to prevent illegal immigration while siphoning funds from other measures — such as new technology and added staffing at high-traffic border crossings — that would. There’s simply no justification for it.

In his desperation to get it built anyway, Trump is attempting to end-run Congress’s power of the purse, including by declaring a bogus national emergency in February and now diverting funding that lawmakers had explicitly appropriated for other purposes. Congress should foreclose this avenue once and for all by ensuring that the final version of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act forbids the use of such funds for border barrier construction. And Republicans in the Senate, who have intermittently opposed this charade, should now be able to unequivocally condemn it.

Defending the border should not come at the expense of U.S. military readiness, let alone the welfare of the brave men and women on which it depends.

Editorial by Bloomberg News

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