Border Wall Money May Be This Year’s Leading Fiscal ‘Showstopper’

The crises that have dominated Washington’s recent budget battles increasingly have hung on one showstopper issue, be it the Affordable Care Act, or Planned Parenthood, or immigration.

ACA funding was at the root of Sen. Ted Cruz’s fight to keep a government funding package from going through in 2013, a battle that led to a two-week government shutdown and rattled markets. Not long after, Republicans also tried to hold up a Homeland Security funding bill so they could derail an Obama-era immigration rule.

Lawmakers say this fall’s fight to fund the federal government also may come down to one key dispute: funding for President Donald Trump’s promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Border wall

“This has become such a symbolic thing for Republicans and Democrats and the [Trump] administration alike that it’s getting in the way of a logical solution,” said senior House Appropriations member Tom Cole (R-Okla.) after Democrats lined up to oppose—unsuccessfully—an $800 billion, four-bill “minibus” containing $1.6 billion for projects along the border.

Cole echoed other Republican appropriators in saying the $1.6 billion isn’t for starting a wall per se but for “component parts” of enhanced border security. Included is funding for barriers—including the replacement of fencing in place since 1999—in three spots in California and Texas.

“This is just enhanced security,” Cole said.

But Cole said that’s not how either lawmakers or the White House is likely to see it when it comes time to pass a bill to fund the entire government in September. Some type of temporary spending bill is seen as essential as none of the 12 fiscal year 2018 bills has so far been passed. Lawmakers said the White House may want to attach border funds to that stopgap.

“I hope we don’t freeze the funding process for the entire government of the United States over a political shouting match,” Cole said of the border funding.

Cole didn’t weigh in on whether he thinks in the end Congress will give Trump all the money he wants to build the wall, which the president now envisions as 900 miles long.

“But I guess the election of Trump himself is almost a ‘wall’ as the legal problems have gone down two-thirds since he’s become president,” Cole said.