When the Trump transition team told Congress that American taxpayers would finance the construction of the border wall with Mexico, with reimbursement to come later from the Mexican government, it was treated as a major policy retreat by the media. For example, here’s the CNN report:
The move would break a key campaign promise when Trump repeatedly said he would force Mexico to pay for the construction of the wall along the border, though in October, Trump suggested for the first time that Mexico would reimburse the US for the cost of the wall.
Trump defended that proposal Friday morning in a tweet, saying the move to use congressional appropriations was because of speed.
“The dishonest media does not report that any money spent on building the Great Wall (for sake of speed), will be paid back by Mexico later!” Trump tweeted Friday.
“When you understand that Mexico’s economy is dependent upon U.S. consumers, Donald Trump has all the cards he needs to play. On the trade negotiation side, I don’t think it’s that difficult for Donald Trump to convince Mexico that it’s in their best interest to reimburse us for building the wall,” Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) explained to CNN.
It’s a bit rich to see the media that staunchly defended Barack Obama doubling the U.S. national debt in a single presidency — the media that thinks quibbles about deficit spending only come from heartless grinches looking for an excuse to defund social programs so they can enjoy watching poor people die — suddenly become deeply concerned about Trump launching the border wall project before the last shrink-wrapped pallet of cash has been delivered to the White House by the government of Mexico.
Trump is, quite obviously, correct to note that if building the wall is an urgent project, waiting for the tricky business of securing Mexican financing to be completed first would result in an unacceptable delay.
Unlike most of what Democrats routinely blow billions in taxpayer cash and imaginary deficit dollars on, the border wall is an actual bona fide duty of the federal government — a duty that was supposed to be fulfilled long ago. As the Associated Press observes, congressional Republicans believe no new legislation will be necessary to secure financing, because existing law “already authorizes fencing and other technology along the southern border.”
Trump’s proposals for making Mexico pay for the wall have never assumed the funds would be collected from them before the wall was built. For example, he wrote a memo to the Washington Post in April 2016 outlining how trade tariffs, visa cancellations, increased border crossing fees, and a ban on cash remittances from Mexicans living in the U.S. could be used to either compel the Mexican government to pay for the wall, or collect the necessary monies from them over time.
All of the methods Trump outlined in this memo would require time to work; the most draconian measure he discussed, blocking the roughly $24 billion annually sent back to Mexico through remittances, would probably be the fastest. Trump said this would be a no-brainer for Mexico: “Make a one-time payment of $5-10 billion to ensure that $24 billion continues to flow into their country year after year.” He did not say improvements in border security had to wait until Mexico paid up.
Point Number 1 on the “10 Point Plan to Put America First” on Trump’s campaign website reads as follows: “Begin working on an impenetrable physical wall on the southern border, on day one. Mexico will pay for the wall.” (Emphasis mine.)
No clever parsing is needed to see that building the wall comes first, and must begin immediately, while collecting Mexico’s financial contribution comes later. (Remember how much liberals love to call taxes “contributions” when they’re talking about squeezing money out of Americans.)
Trump’s 10-Point Plan to Put America First goes on to make the same points he included in his open letter to the Washington Post, including hard numbers about the cost of illegal immigration that make building the wall as much of a no-brainer for Washington as it is for the Mexican government. To reformulate the question Trump asked of Mexico: Doesn’t it make sense to save a healthy portion of the $300 billion annual cost of current immigration policy by spending $8-10 billion one time, to build a wall, and then telling the Mexican government it can keep $24 billion a year in remittances flowing by reimbursing America for that $8-10 billion?
Trump has also taken pains to explain how constructing a solid border wall would directly benefit Mexico. “No one wins in either country when human smugglers and drug traffickers prey on innocent people,” he observed, after meeting with President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico City in August.
“We want to make sure the people of the United States are very well protected. You equally expressed your feelings and your love for Mexico,” he said to Nieto at the beginning of their joint press conference.
Trump is right, but only American leadership can get a project of this magnitude moving. The terms of the hemispherical conversation will change if America shows it’s finally serious and starts building those border improvements. Sitting around and waiting for other countries to take the lead, with occasional carping from the sidelines about how they’re on the “wrong side of history” when they drag their feet, was Obama’s style, not Trump’s.
During a Fox News town hall in April, Trump steadfastly insisted Mexico would end up paying for the wall, but made it clear construction had to begin quickly.
“They’ll pay, they’ll pay — in one form or another. They may even write us a check by the time they see what happens,” he said on the subject of financing, which could be taken as a prediction that either Mexico will knuckle under to pressure, or they’ll grow more enthusiastic about contributing when they see the wall is really happening.
As for the construction timetable, Trump estimated about two years from start to completion, then added, “We’ll start quickly, we’ll start quickly. And it will be a real wall.” Once again, he was clearly stating construction had to begin before the financial argument with Mexico was settled.
Another financing plan floated during the presidential campaign is that money seized from Mexican cartels would help pay for the wall. That sort of collection will take time, and building the wall first will assist with the process, not to mention benefiting Mexico’s government by weakening the cartels. Again: wall first, money later.
Mexico has already released its 2017 budget, and it pointedly did not include any money for the wall, but it came to about $234 billion altogether. There’s wall money in there, but it will take time to convince Mexico to allocate it, and then more time for their own executive and legislative organs to make the necessary budget changes. Delaying the breaking of ground until that process is fully complete would be the real betrayal of Trump’s campaign promises.
The last thing the American people want to hear from this new administration is the same old song about how border security must wait until a long list of other priorities are addressed first, because we all know how that story ends … or, more to the point, doesn’t end, ever.