Columns

Rep. Burgess on Border Wall: Americans Need to See ‘Something Tangible’ After Failed Promises

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) examines a printout of a $1.1 trillion spending bill at the Capitol on Dec. 16, 2015. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) told PJM that the Defense Department cannot continue to ask Congress for more funding in the future while spending money on “less than proper things.”

In 2015, the Defense Business Board reportedly found ways the Pentagon could save $125 billion in taxpayer funding over the next five years. According to the Washington Post, the Pentagon swept the study under the rug over concerns that Congress would not increase the agency’s budget.

Burgess voted in favor of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, which increased the Department of Defense budget by $165 billion above the existing spending caps and increased domestic spending by $131 billion over current levels for a two-year period. President Trump signed the bill into law last month. Burgess has been a strong advocate for a full audit of the Pentagon.

PJM asked Burgess, who co-sponsored the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2017, at last month’s CPAC if Congress should have raised defense spending before the completion of a full Pentagon audit.

“There is a little bit of a nick if they don’t comply, so there’s actually a cost now to not complying,” Burgess replied, referring to the .5 percent budget penalty for non-compliance. He recalled hearing Defense Secretary James Mattis recently say that he was surprised a full audit had never been completed.

“He said he left the Pentagon in 1994 and he was surprised when he came back that the thing had never been done. I think the secretary recognizes it’s important. You can’t have these headlines where dollars have been spent on less than proper things and continue to ask for more money,” Burgess said.

The full audit will reportedly cost $367 million along with an added $551 million to correct anticipated problems.

Burgess was also asked if he thinks the GOP missed an opportunity to fully fund the border wall system as part of the two-year budget deal Congress passed this month.

“No, there was some and some was a start. The journey of 1,000 miles starts with the first step, right? That first step has been taken, so that’s a good thing,” he replied.

Burgess said the GOP should not support any immigration reform deal that does not include funding for more border barriers.

“The issue of giving in on citizenship or amnesty before you have tangible evidence that you’ve got border security, you know, maybe the entire wall didn’t have to be built but some of it has to be built,” he said. “Maybe you bring a bulldozer down to the lower Rio Grande valley and knock down all the carrizo cane so people can’t hide, so that those aerostats that we keep in the air at great cost can actually see the ground rather than just see the top of the canopy. You would have to have some sort of tangible result first.”

Burgess addressed Democrats who argue that a border wall is inhumane during a breakout session at CPAC titled, “You May Say You’re a DREAMer But You’re Not the Only One.”

“The entire concept of building a wall – people need to see some tangible response that border security is being taken seriously,” Burgess said.

Burgess said that “people are suspicious” of border security promises from politicians given the history of the issue, particularly during the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

“President Reagan was promised, give us the amnesty today and we’ll get your border secured tomorrow and tomorrow never came,” he said. “It is that fear that Congress will promise and not deliver. The Secure Fence Act, I voted for it in 2006. It is that fear that Congress will promise and not deliver. People need to see something tangible.”