Invasive vines creep over the hedge separating my house from my next-door neighbor’s house. Sometimes those vines even touch trees in my yard. That’s why every night I stand on the top of a giant ladder, shouting into a megaphone, straight into their yard. “You’re going to cut those weeds right now! And then you’ll pay for a gardener to get rid of the roots! You’ll see! I’ll make you pay!”
In a related story, I called up US Representative Will Hurd, (R-TX) whose Congressional district shares the nation’s longest border with Mexico – from El Paso to San Antonio – to ask him about who is going to pay for our promised “Border Wall” with Mexico. Unlike the interaction with my neighbors, this call actually happened.
Hurd stands by his earlier statement that the Trump-promised border wall is a “3rd Century solution to a 21st Century problem.”
“I still believe that building a wall from sea to sea isn’t the most effective way to do border security,” Hurd told me.
I asked about funding the wall, something that ultimately falls to Congress.
The Trump administration managed to secure $20 million in a budgetary move called “re-programming,” to allow the Department of Homeland Security to study different potential wall designs. One prototype under study is a 30-foot tall structure, which Hurd says would take someone around 4 hours to breach.
The real wall, however, would cost a lot more than the $20 million in starter funds.
While Trump has consistently promised a $10 to $12 billion price tag, independent estimates range from $25 billion to $67 billion, with an article in the MIT Tech Review settling on $40 billion.
That kind of money can’t be gotten through budgetary shuffling known as ‘reprogramming,’ but rather requires Congressional support. At the end of April Trump threatened to hold up a 2017 appropriations bill – needed to keep the federal government from an imminent shut-down – if Congress did not set aside $1.4 billion to begin constructing the wall. The Republican Congress called his bluff, and the wall-funding request dropped for 2017. Maybe it will be back for negotiation in 2018?
Trump says it will. “Eventually, but at a later date so we can get started early, Mexico will be paying, in some form, for the badly needed border wall.” He tweeted. And then, “Don’t let the fake media tell you that I have changed my position on the WALL. It will get built and help stop drugs, human trafficking etc.”
In the meantime, spending billions this way makes no sense to Representative Hurd. As a former undercover CIA officer deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, he’d advocate a smarter combination of technology, human intelligence, and cooperation with our Mexican counterparts.
“There’s 19 criminal organizations that we’ve identified. Let’s improve our intelligence on those groups and stop them before they get to the border. Ultimately, border security is important, and we need to do a better job.” See, that’s a reasonable, informed, approach.
Who would pay for this wall? We already know Trump’s repeated claim that Mexico will pay.
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox has a colorful way of expressing his country’s attitude. “We’re not building your fucking wall!” he has repeatedly stated to every media outlet on the planet. Unlike statements made by my own president, I believe him. Every Mexican schoolchild remembers 1848, even if most US residents do not know what happened that year. Mexico will no more pay for Trump’s border wall then the US will pay reparations to the Queen of England for territorial and property losses incurred between 1776 and 1783.
Realistically speaking, either US taxpayers pay directly for the wall, or US consumers pay for this indirectly through higher taxes on imports from Mexico. To do that, of course, we’re talking about big changes in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), something President Trump also advocates.
Hurd disagrees with that approach as well. “NAFTA is important, end of story. The US, Mexico, and Canada, we build things together. We should be thinking about how we achieve more of this. There are ways to improve it…Updating NAFTA could be a model for free trade agreements around the world. We should be talking about how to strengthen NAFTA, not pull out of it.”
As for me, I’ve driven hundreds of miles through Hurd’s district, from Big Bend to San Antonio on I-90, noting the small towns that have already suffered as a result of stricter border controls. On that long, lonesome highway you see a preview of the economic devastation a border wall – or pulling out of NAFTA – would cause in Texas.
I have tried hard to find serious analysis of the cost of the border wall, serious methods of paying for it, and serious economic impacts of the wall. It cannot be done. The subject resists serious thought. It’s a deeply unserious promise made by a deeply unserious person. But here’s the serious problem for Trump with all his “border wall” talk. When you expose yourself as a bully and a liar on your single most important campaign promise, people remember. Mexico is on to Trump and is calling his bluff. Congress is on to Trump and is calling his bluff.
In the meantime, picture me on my big step ladder every night, megaphone in hand, shaking my fist at my neighbors’ weeds. “You’re gonna pay!” After the first few months, the neighbors stopped paying attention. But I know my starting position is a strong negotiating stance. I’m good at making deals. And people like me.
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