The Trump administration proposes to kick-start construction of a border wall with $4.1 billion in spending through 2018, an official said Wednesday.
Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said the president would request $1.5 billion in a supplemental spending bill and $2.6 billion in his fiscal year 2018 budget. The combined $4.1 billion in spending is considerably greater than previous estimates on a down payment for the wall, but well short of its estimated total cost of $22 billion.
The proposed budget line items would be part of a broader push to secure the border in what Mulvaney called an “America First” budget.
“We wrote it using the president’s own words,” he said during a call with reporters. “We went through his speeches, we went through articles that have been written about his policies … and we turned those policies into numbers.”
Overall, the supplemental will ask for $30 billion for defense and border security. The president’s proposed budget also would increase Department of Homeland Security funding by 6 percent, Mulvaney said.
If approved by Congress, the $4.1 billion in border wall funding would represent a substantial investment in security. The figure is more than 10 times what President Barack Obama requested for the acquisition and maintenance of technology and tactical infrastructure along U.S. borders in the current fiscal year.
The border spending may trigger a standoff with Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said this week that border wall funding would be a “poison pill” that could lead to a government shutdown. “We believe it would be inappropriate to insist on the inclusion of such funding in a must-pass appropriations bill,” Schumer wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Some Republicans have voiced opposition as well. “Billions of dollars on a wall is not the right way to proceed,” Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, was heard telling constituents last week in an audio obtained by POLITICO. “We shouldn’t just build a wall and add billions of dollars because that’s what somebody said should be done.” Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma told POLITICO, “we can’t pay for it out of thin air.”
Even if Democratic and Republican opponents do agree to steer money toward the wall, it’s unclear how far the funds would go. An internal DHS report reviewed by Reuters found the wall could cost an estimated $21.6 billion.
OMB’s Mulvaney said Wednesday that the $1.5 billion would fund “pilot cases” where DHS could test several types of border wall in different areas.
“The next question is going to be, ‘How many miles of wall does that build, right?’” Mulvaney said. “We don’t know the answer to that question because we haven’t settled on construction types, we haven’t settled on where we’re going to start.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection suggested this week that it could solicit proposals on two types of border wall designs in the near future, according to a post on a federal contracting website.
CBP initially said it planned to procure “concrete wall structures, nominally 30 feet tall, that will meet requirements for aesthetics, anti-climbing, and resistance to tampering or damage.” On Tuesday, it opened the door to the possibility of non-concrete proposals that would feature “other designs.”
In order to free up funds for the wall, the administration cut from other budget areas, Mulvaney said. The president’s fiscal year 2018 budget would slash State Department funding by 28 percent, the OMB director said.
Despite Trump’s repeated campaign promises, the administration does not expect Mexico to pay for the wall. “It’s coming out of the treasury,” Mulvaney said.