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Merkley: 'This is basically what happens in a dictatorship,' even as Congress approves federal spending authority through Sept. 30.

Oregon's U.S. senators and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, all Democrats, have sharply criticized President Donald Trump's declaration of a national emergency to muster funds for a border wall with Mexico that Congress has said no to.

"This is basically what happens in a dictatorship," Sen. Jeff Merkley said in a conference call with Oregon reporters Thursday, before Trump announced it but after the president made clear his intentions.

"You declare an emergency and you do whatever you want, as opposed to a democratic republic, where Congress lays out the laws and the executive implements them."

Sen. Ron Wyden said in a tweet: "The only national emergency here is the damage Trump's fragile ego is doing to the country."

On Friday night, at a town hall meeting at the Sylvania campus of Portland Community College, Wyden said Trump's declaration was an attempt at an end run around Congress.

"Let me tell you something," Wyden said. "He is going to lose in Congress and the courts because we have this wonderful document called the Constitution, which says Congress appropriates money, not the president."

Blumenauer, who represents the 3rd District, said Thursday: "The American people will not be fooled by more of Trump's fear-mongering."

In a follow-up statement Friday morning, Blumenauer said he would introduce a congressional resolution to invoke a national emergency for climate change.

"If Trump can call a national emergency for a fake crisis at the border, then surely Congress should call a national emergency for our real crisis," he said.

"The climate crisis is impacting our world as we know it. Every day, our temperatures are rising and our sea levels are following suit, threatening more intense storms and natural disasters. Saving the planet is our most pressing issue that must be addressed with urgent action, not a manufactured 'crisis' at the border."

Their comments followed congressional approval of spending authority for federal agencies, forestalling another partial government shutdown, through the end of the budget year Sept. 30.

The Senate vote was 83-16, and the House vote, 300-128. All Oregon members voted yes.

But the 1,159-page bill, which rolls seven appropriations measures into one, authorizes less than $1.4 billion additional money for border security, far less than the $5.7 billion Trump sought to build a concrete or steel wall along the southern border with Mexico.

It is also less than the $1.6 billion congressional Democrats and Republicans agreed to for border security in December, when Trump changed his mind and allowed a partial shutdown that lasted a record 35 days. The shutdown ended Jan. 25, when Congress approved and Trump signed a three-week extension of spending authority that ended today.

At the Friday town hall, attended by 200 people, Wyden took issue with a questioner who said Wyden and Merkley still gave Trump money for a wall and Democrats failed to limit the number of detention beds for people crossing the border illegally.

"We recognized it was better to have beaten Donald Trump on the wall — and we got a number of other good things — than to simply walk away and let him say the government was shut down by the Democrats," Wyden said.

Declaration procedure

Under a 1976 law that terminated previous declarations of national emergency dating back decades, presidents can invoke emergencies but Congress can override them. If one chamber passes such a resolution, it must come to a vote in the other chamber within 18 days and is not subject to the 60-vote majority required to end debate in the Senate

The law arose after a Senate committee in the 1970s found numerous emergency declarations, going back to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, that had never been terminated. It passed in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and President Richard Nixon's abuse of executive authority.

The law has been invoked by presidents 60 times since 1978, according to the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, but Trump challenges congressional authority over federal spending. Most of the others involve economic sanctions or trade limits, natural disasters or terrorism, such as the East Coast attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Trump seeks to muster funds from other budget accounts, particularly military construction, to make up the rest of the $5.7 billion he sought from Congress.

Merkley told reporters he believes some of the 53 Republicans would join all 47 Democrats and independents to support such a resolution.

"Military construction does not allow him to transfer funds in the manner he is seeking, unless there is a declaration of war or the type of emergency that requires the use of military forces," said Merkley, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"The law does not say the president gets to determine whether the use of troops is required. If Congress wanted to give the president that power, it would have given it to him explicitly. I think he is on very weak ground. We will see this fiercely contested."

Merkley, however, said it was uncertain whether two-thirds majorities could be mustered in Congress to override a likely presidential veto of a resolution.

"It might be much harder to secure," he said.

Lawsuit possible

Another alternative is a lawsuit, either by members of Congress or outside groups. Merkley said he had not thought about whether he would join such a lawsuit, which also is uncertain if the courts decide they do not want to intervene in a dispute between the legislative and executive branches.

Most of the money in the seven appropriations measures — Congress usually deals with a total of 13 annually, but some had already passed — was negotiated back before the government shutdown Dec. 21.

"A shutdown is avoided. Funding bills are in place for the balance of this (budget) year," Merkley said.

Merkley listed numerous federal programs funded by the massive package that will benefit Oregon. A list is attached.

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List of programs

List of programs affecting Oregon, provided by Sen. Jeff Merkley, included in the spending authority package approved by Congress on Thursday. Some are national figures, others for regional programs, for the federal budget year ending Sept. 30:

• A $583 million increase in rental assistance funding, and a $123 million increase in homeless assistance grants.

• Funding for transportation and infrastructure, including an additional $549 million for clean water and sanitary waste systems in rural communities, and an increase in funding for a program he originated that will leverage up to $7.3 billion in low-cost loans for water infrastructure.

• Increased funding for wildfire prevention and $2.5 billion in funding for wildfire suppression, plus a $508 million emergency buffer to prevent fire borrowing if necessary.

• A massive, $550 million investment in rural broadband, which he said is up 10-fold from a few years ago.

• $500 million for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program, which helps fund vital services in counties with large tracts of Bureau of Land Management land, mostly east of the Cascades.

• Increased funding for agricultural research.

• $25 million for irrigation modernization in Central Oregon.

• $4 million for local water efforts in the Klamath Basin, including $3.5 million to help restore healthy populations of shortnose and Lost River sucker.

• $3.5 million for mass timber research.

• $1.2 million to combat sudden oak death on the south coast.

• $1 million for Columbia River Basin restoration.

• Maintaining funding for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, which creates jobs in the woods and helps make forests more fire-resilient.

NOTE: Adds number of national emergency declarations that presidents have invoked since 1976 law. Adds comments from Sen. Wyden at Friday night town hall meeting. Adds final House and Senate vote totals; all Oregon members voting yes.

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