The White House ups the odds of a government shutdown by demanding Democrats fund Trump's border wall
Calm and quiet negotiations aren't everyone's cup of tea. Congress has until April 28 to pass a stopgap spending bill to avoid a government shutdown, and Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate appropriations committees have been working with Republican leaders to negotiate a spending package. Any spending bill will need the support of at least eight Democrats in the Senate to pass. On Thursday, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said the spending bill has to include some initial funding for President Trump's border wall with Mexico, and Democrats have to play ball.
"We have our list of priorities," Mulvaney said Thursday. "We want more money for defense. We want to build a border wall." He said the White House would be open to throwing some money at Democratic priorities, too — mentioning paying risk-sharing subsidies to insurance companies to cover low-income health care, important to keeping ObamaCare exchanges functioning — but Democrats have to support Trump's wall and other priorities, too. He stopped short of saying Trump wouldn't sign a bill without such funding, The Washington Post reports.
Democrats expressed disappointment that the White House was elbowing its way in. "Everything had been moving smoothly until the administration moved in with a heavy hand," said Matt House, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). "Not only are Democrats opposed to the wall, there is significant Republican opposition as well." Mulvaney wasn't swayed, insisting Democrats agree to fund the wall. "If they tell us to pound sand, I think that's probably a disappointing indicator of where the next four years is going to go," he said
The cost of completing a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border ranges from $12 billion to $70 billion. During the campaign, Trump had insisted that he would somehow force Mexico to foot the costs. Peter Weber
Republicans don't seem eager to go to the mat to finance President Trump's border wall with Mexico, at least in the stopgap spending bill that must pass by April 28 to avoid a government shutdown. Still, on Tuesday, the White House sent Congress a request for an immediate cut of $18 billion from domestic programs to pay for the wall, The Associated Press reports, citing a Capitol Hill aide who described the unreleased documents.
The requested cuts reportedly include $1.2 billion from National Institutes of Health medical grants, $1.5 billion from community development grants, $500 million from a transportation grant program, $434 million to eliminate a program to encourage community service among senior citizens, and $372 million from heating subsidies for the poor.
As with Trump's 2018 budget plan, Congress will probably ignore Trump's requests, though building the wall is a high priority for Trump and the White House hasn't yet joined the 2017 spending negotiations. Democrats pounced anyway. "The administration is asking the American taxpayer to cover the cost of a wall — unneeded, ineffective, absurdly expensive — that Mexico was supposed to pay for, and he is cutting programs vital to the middle class to get that done," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y). "Build the wall or repair or build a bridge or tunnel or road in your community? What's the choice?"
How much the wall would cost is an open question. Republicans estimate a price tag of $12 billion to $15 billion, a Homeland Security Department report put the cost at $21.6 billion, and on Tuesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) suggested the final number could hit $66.9 billion. McCaskill, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said she based her estimate on a briefing for committee staff in which the administration explained that its 2018 budget request of $2.6 billion for the wall would go toward constructing 75 miles of new wall. She did the math for the 1,827 viable miles of border, conceding that this wasn't a perfect way to get an accurate estimate.
"It is concerning that the cost of construction could also be significantly higher, as the cost of acquiring land currently owned by private individuals was not included in the estimate," McCaskill wrote to the acting head of U.S. Customs and Border protection. "Regardless, the $36.6 million per mile figure is the only information, and the closest to a cost estimate that the Committee has obtained from DHS." Peter Weber