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