Republican lawmakers have found a way to build President-Elect Trump’s border wall, and in a complete reversal of a popular campaign promise, American taxpayers will bear the full cost of the measure.
House Republicans say they can use the authorization from George W. Bush’s 2006 Secure Fence Act, which has no end date, to build barriers at the border. That’s according to Republican lawmakers and aides who spoke to CNN and Politico just hours ago.
More than ten years ago President George W. Bush signed a larger immigration bill that included the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which authorized the construction of a double fence along 850 miles of the southern border. (That’s almost half the length of the southern border.) Two years later, that distance was changed to “a minimum” of 700 miles, and the definition of “fence” was broadened to allow the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to build something other than a fence (or a physical barrier at all, as terrain allowed). In all, just 36 miles of double fence was constructed, along with 350 miles of single layer fence and 300 miles of vehicle barriers that could only stop a vehicle, not an illegal immigrant.
Because the act calls for a “minimum” of 700 miles of double fence, a distance that has not been fulfilled, Republicans see an opening.
And they see a similar opening in the 2017 budget process to pay for the wall.
Mexican President Vincente Fox has flatly stated he will “not pay for that f***ing wall,” and Trump has been backing down from the campaign promise for months. Now, these same lawmakers say that Republicans will insert language to fund construction of the wall into the appropriations bill due at the end of April, when the current Continuing Resolution passed in November expires.
It sets up an ugly budget fight, and dares Democrats to shut down the government or fund the wall. Republicans are optimistic that Democrats will reluctantly vote to fund the government and the border wall, noting that they need just eight votes in the Senate to do so.
But they’ve got another trick up their sleeve.
Immigration and border security were different topics ten years ago. This bill attracted signatures from both sides of the aisle—then-Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, even—and many Democratic senators who are still in the chamber today, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Republicans believe they can pressure Senate Democrats to vote in favor of the law from two sides. They believe Democrats who voted for the immigration law and Secure Fence Act in 2006 will be hard-pressed to vote against it now. Similarly, Republicans believe Senate Democrats in red states may not be keen to vote against a signature piece of Trump’s agenda, knowing the carnage of the 2016 election and the already-unforgiving electoral map facing Democrats in 2018.
The only challenge they may face, ironically, is from within their own party, as fiscal conservatives balk at the cost of new barriers. Politico cites a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study which estimates that even a single fence will cost $6.5 million per mile, while a double fence costs $10.4 million per mile.