Let’s get serious about the US border. Let’s put present political debate in perspective. While President Trump has asked for $5 billion dollars to build a protective “wall” along the vulnerable Southwest border – in a federal budget of $4 trillion dollars – US House Democrat leader (soon House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democrat Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), say “no, too much money.” On the numbers, this is absurd. This is pure political theater.
In early December, more than 1,100 illegal Central American immigrants are crossing the US southwest border daily, aside from the publicized “caravans” camping in Tijuana, Mexico, south of San Diego. The problem – as most know – is unprotected portions of the US border from Rio Grande Valley to the Yuma sectors.
The answer? Reinforcing border security, of course. This should be a “no brainer,” but has now gotten twisted up in a nonsensical debate over whether “omnibus” legislation with the remaining seven appropriations bills – has room for $5 billion to fund the wall.
Note, the total dollar figure tied up in these last seven bills is nearly one trillion dollars, so $5 billion would be one half of one percent of that bill. Even if limited to discretionary spending, the total is roughly $322 billion.
So what gives? Clearly, the idea is to assume most Americans are not paying attention, and to blithely politicize President Trump’s efforts to enhance southwestern border security via a “wall.” Democrats want to deny the President this success, and believe they have a winner. After all, $5 billion sounds like a big number.
But let us keep or restore some fiscal perspective. Roughly $3 trillion dollars are spent annually on so-called “entitlement” programs, a number unsustainable over time. The Democrats have driven that number north. Moreover, as a result, current federal debt tops $21 trillion, with interest rising at breakneck pace.
In less than 10 years, annual interest on the national debt will exceed $900 billion. Cost of interest on the national debt will hit $390 billion next year – 50 percent higher than in 2017, according to the Congressional Budget Office. So we are on an unsustainable path with these unreformed entitlement programs and national debt.
But for the moment, put those monstrous numbers away. Debt reduction and reforming entitlement programs are big issues – and will need to be addressed by future congresses and administrations. Just look at the current “seven bill” omnibus spending package – the one that has roughly $322 billion in discretionary spending in it (read: could be cut, without hitting entitlements).
This is a bill over which the Democrats are howling – saying no room for $5 billion to build the President’s border-protecting wall. Even assuming insufficient bipartisan support for adding $5 billion to the $322 billion bill, what else is in that bill – what else might be cut to offset the wall, and which Democrats will not agree to cut? A lot.
Here are a few examples: Without gutting or markedly reducing other programs, that necessary $5 billion could easily be found – if congressional Democrats stopped playing politics and started thinking about enabling national security, law enforcement, Southern state populations, and broader public safety in the United States. After all, with illegal entrants come drugs, drug and human traffickers, organized criminal gangs, transnational crime syndicates and – as law enforcement affirms – suspected terrorists.
So, why not reinforce security along the southern border with the start of a bona fides protective wall. The money could come from any combination of the following: The present bill contains nearly $2 billion for international food programs that offer no identified strategic alignment or Return on Investment. The so-called “SNAP” program is funded at $73.2 billion, with $3 billion that is not targeted, just held in reserve. Could some of that not go to protect Americans we are feeding?
Or how about the $43.6 billion given to Housing and Urban Development, which is $11.9 billion above the president’s request – how about making it just $6.9 billion over the president’s budget request – and building the wall? Or slimming down the $30.8 billion given out at “housing choice vouchers,” which is half a billion over the president’s budget?
Or maybe Congress could – without adding anything new – trim the broad $7.6 billion for “Community Planning and Development,” or the other housing programs that now tally $12.6 billion, more than $100 million above last year’s level, and $655 million above request?
Here is the bottom line: All the largess that floods these appropriations bills at end of year, faster in the hurly-burly of urgent “omnibus bill” passage, leaves plenty of room for discretionary cuts – even when entitlement programs are left untouched.
The fact – that no one wants to speak open is this: The $5 billion President Trump is asking for is less than one half of one percent of the total in this giant spending bill, less than two percent of total discretionary spending in these bills. Of course it could be done – and easily. That public safety money could be added, or cut from the existing fat. Instead we get politics. That is what no one will say, but there you have it – boldly said. Be honest: We could fund a border wall. Only politics is stopping us.