The FY 2020 budget request includes $8.6 billion for construction of President Trump’s border wall along the Southwest border, “doubling down” (actually, more like tripling down) on his efforts to get Congress to fund his pet project.
Of the total amount, $5 billion is included in the Department of Homeland Security budget, for construction of 200 miles of border wall along the Southwest border. That’s more than three times what the President requested in last year’s budget ($1.6 billion). And keep in mind that in the recent budget deal that avoided a second government shut-down, Congress gave the White House only $1.375 billion barrier for construction along the Southwest border and specified that it could not be used on the President’s border wall project.
So, in what looks like an effort to get around Congress on funding his wall, the President has included two new initiatives in the 2020 budget request.
First, in addition to the border wall funding in the DHS budget (where it belongs), President Trump is requesting a further $3.6 billion in the Defense Department’s FY 2020 request, probably in the Military Construction portion of the Pentagon’s budget. While the President has stated on numerous occasions his intention to pay for at least a portion of the border wall with Pentagon money, this is the first time the Administration has included an actual funding request in an official budget proposal. And as we’ve pointed out on several occasions, this type of budgetary shenanigan is a bad idea.
But it appears, from what little we know yet, that the White House is trying to take its efforts to circumvent Congress on wall building one step further. The Trump Administration is also proposing the creation of a new Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Fund. The fund would provide “additional mandatory funding resources necessary to meet the President’s border security and immigration enforcement goals.” [Emphasis added.] While the details about this initiative are sketchy at this point, it seems that the White House is trying to take Congress out of the border wall funding equation, at least partially. Here’s how. Mandatory spending is not part of the annual Congressional appropriations process, meaning if enacted, this fund would provide the President with money for border security outside of Congress’s normal budget control. Mandatory funding is generally limited to so-called “entitlement programs.” These are government programs that guarantee certain benefits to a particular group or portion of the population, like Social Security and Medicare. And once established, they are only infrequently subjected to Congressional review.
Whether Congress is willing to move even a portion of border construction into the realm of the “untouchable” remains to be seen, but it seems highly unlikely, especially on an issue where Congress has already demonstrated it is willing to draw a line in the sand.