Build That Wall? The Next Budget Battle Ahead

Build That Wall? The Next Budget Battle Ahead


Congress reconvenes for a lame-duck session next week and funding for President Trump’s border wall with Mexico will be front and center as lawmakers turn to unsettled budget items for the current fiscal year.

After turning up the volume on immigration issues in the run-up to the midterm vote, Trump signaled this week that he still wants funding for a wall. “We need the money to build the wall, the whole wall, not pieces of it,” Trump said at a combative press conference Wednesday.

Democrats aren’t likely to grant Trump’s wish but the parties will need to find a way to address the issue. Money for the border wall could become a key sticking point as lawmakers face a deadline for seven appropriations bills that cover funding for about 25 percent of the federal government, including the Department of Homeland Security. The continuing resolution currently providing funding expires on December 7.

How many billions? House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) introduced a bill last month that would provide about $23 billion for a wall, close to Trump’s demand for $25 billion, but few saw it as a viable proposal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is reportedly eying an appropriation of as much as $5 billion, in line with what the House has put forth and more than the $1.6 billion the Senate approved in its version of the Homeland Security spending bill earlier this year. But any new bill will require the cooperation of Senate Democrats, who have sent mixed messages about how they plan to handle the negotiations.

Earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said he had little interest in negotiating with Trump over immigration. “The president’s a very poor negotiator on those issues. He sort of backs off so we’re sort of dubious of the president," Schumer said Wednesday. But Schumer also said that negotiations among lawmakers were making progress and that “there are good agreements on border security and other things that are in the Homeland Security appropriation.”

Complicating factors: Immigration activists are pressuring resurgent Democrats to reject wall funding entirely. “No more walls, agents, or detention centers are needed,” Vicki Gaubeca of the Southern Border Communities Coalition told reporters Thursday. And Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the leading candidate to be the next House speaker, said just before the election, “Why would we compromise on the wall now?”

The status of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program further complicates the picture, providing an opportunity for both compromise and conflict. Earlier efforts to negotiate a wall-for-DACA deal quickly fell apart, and with Democrats preparing to take over the House in January, it seems less likely that they’ll be interested in a making a deal. 

The bottom line: It all adds up to what could be a fierce budget battle — budget expert Stan Collender said we should prepare for “lame duck madness” — with the possibility of a partial government shutdown looming in the background. Asked about the possibility of a shutdown over wall funding, Trump said earlier this week, “I can’t commit to that, but it’s possible.”