The Key to 2020: Trump's Border Wall

In the final weeks of this Republican-controlled Congress, likely the last significant accomplishment will be passage of the remaining seven spending bills in the 2019 budget.  Notably, this includes funding for the border wall.  The Republican Party and leadership must choose whether to embrace conservative values or irrationally and unnecessarily capitulate to a liberal agenda wholly at odds with what Republicans campaign for when running for office.  If the remaining spending bills are faithful to conservative values, they could be a catalyst for a successful 2020 election for Republicans.  If they are a capitulation, it could be the impetus for failure.

President Trump's centerpiece in his successful run for president was his no-nonsense position on serious immigration reform and building the border wall.  In fact, the border wall was – and remains – a rallying cry for many millions of his supporters.  These supporters were unhappy with the way both Republicans and Democrats have engaged on the issue of immigration reform and border security – effectively pushing a liberal agenda on these important issues, or alternatively, all talk and no action to properly address the gaping holes in our immigration system.  Then-candidate Trump electrified the issue in the eyes of the public as no other of his fellow Republican candidates managed to do (although a number of Republican candidates, such as Senator Cruz, had also put serious focus on immigration and border security).  Border security with Donald Trump really resonates.

It is now up to congressional Republicans, and particularly Senate Republicans, to decide whether they will allow President Trump to fulfill his oft-repeated commitment to fund the border wall or whether they will cave to Senate Democrats by withholding most of that funding – or even make a foolhardy deal with Democrats on immigration before getting full funding for the wall.  Especially in light of increased threats to the border, evidenced by the hundreds of migrants who rushed the border this week, ensuring proper border security with construction of the completed border wall is a paramount national security concern.

President Trump is asking for five billion dollars to fund the border wall, which is far less than the desired $25 billion he previously requested.  So far, only about $1.6 billion has been allocated for the border wall's construction in the 2018 budget.  The House and Senate are at odds over how much additional funding to allocate to the border wall.  The House version of the 2019 spending bill allocates the requested additional five billion dollars, while the Senate's version allocates only an additional $1.6 billion.  The Senate's version would pay for only 65 miles of pedestrian fencing along the Rio Grande Valley.

To put things into perspective, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate for the president's budget for Fiscal Year 2019, discretionary spending will be about $1.324 trillion, while the total budget – including mandatory spending (which includes Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid), discretionary spending, and net interest – is estimated at $4.448 trillion.  In other words, President Trump is requesting only 0.38% of the 2019 discretionary budget (i.e., five billion dollars) for the border wall (that's 1/265 of the discretionary budget) or 0.11% of the total 2019 budget (that's 1/890 of the total budget).  The Senate version would grant only 0.12% of the discretionary budget (i.e., $1.6 billion) for a border partition (or 1/828 of the discretionary budget) or 0.036% of the total budget (which is 1/2,780 of the budget).  A Homeland Security report had estimated the total cost for the border partition – comprising fences and walls – to be $21.6 billion.  The report estimated that it would take 3.5 years to build.

At a minimum, it is incumbent on the Senate Republican leadership to ensure that five billion dollars is allocated to the border partition.  It is particularly important that Republicans achieve this goal without any concessions – or at least without any significant concessions – to Democrats.  It is important to keep in mind that Fiscal Year 2019 may be the last opportunity for any border partition funding until at least after the 2020 elections.  This is because Democrats will control the House for the next two years and will almost certainly prevent funding for the border partition – unless President Trump makes unwise and painful concessions to Democrats on immigration.

Without substantial progress on the border wall, many 2016 supporters of President Trump may feel let down by Republicans, which may lead to depressed voter turnout in the critical 2020 election year.  It should be assumed that Democrat voters will come out in droves to win the presidency, retain control of the House, and gain control of the Senate.

Another appealing option – that may be even more rewarding for Republicans – would be to use reconciliation to fully fund the border wall.  This process would allow Republicans to allocate $20 billion to fully fund the wall prior to losing control over the House.  In fact, in October, Rep. Bradley Bryne introduced legislation in the House to use budget reconciliation to garner $25 billion in funding for the border wall.  This would allow President Trump to triumphantly tell his supporters that the wall has been fully funded and will be completed in short order.  This would importantly energize the Republican base to come out in 2020, leading to a successful election cycle for President Trump and Republicans.

Reconciliation has been recently used by Republicans to pass tax cuts and has been attempted toward passage of Republican health care legislation.  Reconciliation has been used since 1980.  Prior to passage of the tax cuts, twenty bills were passed using reconciliation (four were vetoed).  In May, the Heritage Foundation recommended that Congress use reconciliation for the 2019 budget.

While five out of twelve spending bills for 2019 were signed into law in September, funding for the border wall remains outstanding and will be included in the Homeland Security spending bill.  These remaining seven bills need to be signed into law by December 7.  It is imperative that Republican leadership in the House and Senate work together to adequately fund the border wall – and they should seriously consider using reconciliation to this end.

President Trump is intent on following through with the centerpiece of his 2016 campaign by fully funding the border partition.  It is high time that Republican leadership in Congress  – and particularly in the Senate – step to the plate and work to fully fund the southern border wall.  If Republican leadership allies with President Trump, it can expect a victorious 2020 election season.  If it instead capitulates to Democrats in the name of "bipartisanship" now, it will likely mean defeat in 2020.

In the final weeks of this Republican-controlled Congress, likely the last significant accomplishment will be passage of the remaining seven spending bills in the 2019 budget.  Notably, this includes funding for the border wall.  The Republican Party and leadership must choose whether to embrace conservative values or irrationally and unnecessarily capitulate to a liberal agenda wholly at odds with what Republicans campaign for when running for office.  If the remaining spending bills are faithful to conservative values, they could be a catalyst for a successful 2020 election for Republicans.  If they are a capitulation, it could be the impetus for failure.

President Trump's centerpiece in his successful run for president was his no-nonsense position on serious immigration reform and building the border wall.  In fact, the border wall was – and remains – a rallying cry for many millions of his supporters.  These supporters were unhappy with the way both Republicans and Democrats have engaged on the issue of immigration reform and border security – effectively pushing a liberal agenda on these important issues, or alternatively, all talk and no action to properly address the gaping holes in our immigration system.  Then-candidate Trump electrified the issue in the eyes of the public as no other of his fellow Republican candidates managed to do (although a number of Republican candidates, such as Senator Cruz, had also put serious focus on immigration and border security).  Border security with Donald Trump really resonates.

It is now up to congressional Republicans, and particularly Senate Republicans, to decide whether they will allow President Trump to fulfill his oft-repeated commitment to fund the border wall or whether they will cave to Senate Democrats by withholding most of that funding – or even make a foolhardy deal with Democrats on immigration before getting full funding for the wall.  Especially in light of increased threats to the border, evidenced by the hundreds of migrants who rushed the border this week, ensuring proper border security with construction of the completed border wall is a paramount national security concern.

President Trump is asking for five billion dollars to fund the border wall, which is far less than the desired $25 billion he previously requested.  So far, only about $1.6 billion has been allocated for the border wall's construction in the 2018 budget.  The House and Senate are at odds over how much additional funding to allocate to the border wall.  The House version of the 2019 spending bill allocates the requested additional five billion dollars, while the Senate's version allocates only an additional $1.6 billion.  The Senate's version would pay for only 65 miles of pedestrian fencing along the Rio Grande Valley.

To put things into perspective, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate for the president's budget for Fiscal Year 2019, discretionary spending will be about $1.324 trillion, while the total budget – including mandatory spending (which includes Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid), discretionary spending, and net interest – is estimated at $4.448 trillion.  In other words, President Trump is requesting only 0.38% of the 2019 discretionary budget (i.e., five billion dollars) for the border wall (that's 1/265 of the discretionary budget) or 0.11% of the total 2019 budget (that's 1/890 of the total budget).  The Senate version would grant only 0.12% of the discretionary budget (i.e., $1.6 billion) for a border partition (or 1/828 of the discretionary budget) or 0.036% of the total budget (which is 1/2,780 of the budget).  A Homeland Security report had estimated the total cost for the border partition – comprising fences and walls – to be $21.6 billion.  The report estimated that it would take 3.5 years to build.

At a minimum, it is incumbent on the Senate Republican leadership to ensure that five billion dollars is allocated to the border partition.  It is particularly important that Republicans achieve this goal without any concessions – or at least without any significant concessions – to Democrats.  It is important to keep in mind that Fiscal Year 2019 may be the last opportunity for any border partition funding until at least after the 2020 elections.  This is because Democrats will control the House for the next two years and will almost certainly prevent funding for the border partition – unless President Trump makes unwise and painful concessions to Democrats on immigration.

Without substantial progress on the border wall, many 2016 supporters of President Trump may feel let down by Republicans, which may lead to depressed voter turnout in the critical 2020 election year.  It should be assumed that Democrat voters will come out in droves to win the presidency, retain control of the House, and gain control of the Senate.

Another appealing option – that may be even more rewarding for Republicans – would be to use reconciliation to fully fund the border wall.  This process would allow Republicans to allocate $20 billion to fully fund the wall prior to losing control over the House.  In fact, in October, Rep. Bradley Bryne introduced legislation in the House to use budget reconciliation to garner $25 billion in funding for the border wall.  This would allow President Trump to triumphantly tell his supporters that the wall has been fully funded and will be completed in short order.  This would importantly energize the Republican base to come out in 2020, leading to a successful election cycle for President Trump and Republicans.

Reconciliation has been recently used by Republicans to pass tax cuts and has been attempted toward passage of Republican health care legislation.  Reconciliation has been used since 1980.  Prior to passage of the tax cuts, twenty bills were passed using reconciliation (four were vetoed).  In May, the Heritage Foundation recommended that Congress use reconciliation for the 2019 budget.

While five out of twelve spending bills for 2019 were signed into law in September, funding for the border wall remains outstanding and will be included in the Homeland Security spending bill.  These remaining seven bills need to be signed into law by December 7.  It is imperative that Republican leadership in the House and Senate work together to adequately fund the border wall – and they should seriously consider using reconciliation to this end.

President Trump is intent on following through with the centerpiece of his 2016 campaign by fully funding the border partition.  It is high time that Republican leadership in Congress  – and particularly in the Senate – step to the plate and work to fully fund the southern border wall.  If Republican leadership allies with President Trump, it can expect a victorious 2020 election season.  If it instead capitulates to Democrats in the name of "bipartisanship" now, it will likely mean defeat in 2020.