There is broad support in the GOP for constructing President Trump’s wall along the southern border. But budget hawks and others in the House are beginning to question how the project will be paid for, and even whether the wall alone will be effective in reducing the flow of illegal aliens.
Trump’s wall already faces legal hurdles given the likelihood that it could spawn lawsuits at the border. But if Congress doesn’t go along with his funding plan, it could effectively stall Trump’s proposal right out of the gate. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week that the cost could range from $12 billion-$15 billion, while Ryan suggested that the project may not be fully offset with spending cuts, saying the wall is “a national security priority.”
Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican who represents the border state of Texas, was deeply skeptical about whether a wall alone would be enough to deter immigrants from entering the country illegally. And he issued a stark warning to Trump.
“I have concerns about spending un-offset money, which adds to the debt, period,” Cornyn said bluntly when asked about the wall. “I don’t think we’re just going to be able to solve border security with a physical barrier because people can come under, around it and through it.”
Trump has increasingly said that Congress would fund the wall initially but would later be reimbursed completely by Mexico. But prominent Republicans say flatly that they don’t think Mexico will pay the United States back — and Mexican leadership has repeatedly said the same — meaning that taxpayers would be left holding the bag.
“No,” Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said when asked if he thought Mexico would reimburse the United States for the wall. “It’s not a viable option.”
McCain added: “If you only build a wall, only a ‘wall,’ without using technology, individuals, drones, observations, etc., you’re not going to secure the border.”
Trump still has time to convince his party to go along, especially if he provides more details on his plans, given Republicans are largely united behind calls for more robust border security. And some GOP senators, like Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, suggest they’re open to paying for the wall even if it’s not offset by spending cuts.
Behind the scenes, the Trump administration has tried to shore up support. John Kelly, the new secretary of Homeland Security, began to discuss with lawmakers this week his border security plans, sources said, but senators reported there were few details on the specifications of the wall.
It should be pointed out that there is very little opposition among Republicans to building the wall. The questions arising over funding, however, are legitimate and could delay passage of an authorizing bill to construct it.
Speaker Ryan made a point of saying that the wall is a matter of national security and that its cost may not be completely offset by spending cuts. But concerns over the deficit and the additional trillions being added to the national debt over the next decade will probably convince the administration that an effort must be made to find additional revenue or spending cuts.
The revenue could come in the form of a “border tax” on Mexican goods coming into the U.S. Or a way may be found to tax remittances being sent back to Mexico from immigrants — legal or otherwise. The latter idea has already drawn opposition from U.S. banks while the former could lead to a trade war with Mexico.
Trump has already proposed significant cuts in many agencies and departments, which makes finding additional cuts difficult. But eventually, the White House and Congress will have a meeting of the minds and the centerpiece of the president’s agenda will be built. After spending eight years agitating for border security, Hill Republicans are not going to back down when the first concrete proposal to put their money where their mouth is comes along.