PHILADELPHIA ― Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Thursday that Congress will pay $12 billion to $15 billion for a border wall upfront, dodging questions about whether they will offset the cost with spending cuts.
The estimate comes one day after President Donald Trump signed an executive order calling for the construction of a wall along the approximately 2,000-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico. It remains unclear what the wall would actually look like, or if it would simply expand upon fencing that is already on the southwestern border.
“We intend to address the wall issue ourselves, and the president can deal with his relations with other countries,” McConnell told reporters at the GOP’s annual retreat.
Journalists asked the Republican leaders three times if Congress would offset the cost of the wall, but they would not provide a direct answer.
Once the White House sends over a supplemental ― a request for additional money to build the wall ― “[Congress] will process that supplemental before the end of the current fiscal year expires,” Ryan said, meaning Republicans plan to push it through by the end of September.
Despite his admission that Congress would foot the bill for the wall upfront, Ryan insisted that Republicans are still fiscal conservatives at their core and would “find the fiscal space” to pay for projects like the wall in their spring budget.
But finding space in a budget is just a loose promise to find an offset to pay for the wall. It doesn’t actually pass a spending cut.
The GOP about-face on government spending has arrived right on schedule, and shouldn’t come as a surprise. During the George W. Bush era, for example, the GOP ran up the tab with two massive tax breaks, two wars, and the Medicare Part D expansion.
During Barack Obama’s presidency, Ryan and McConnell carefully cultivated an image of responsible fiscal conservatism, demanding that any government spending be “offset” with cuts elsewhere in the budget. Not so this time.
Here’s a list of things Republicans opposed funding without offsets during Obama’s presidency. They include relief efforts for some of the biggest natural disasters in recent years:
- $9.7 billion in Hurricane Sandy disaster relief
- $8 billion for 9/11 first responders bill
- $1.9 billion to fight the Zika virus
- $1.1 billion to fight the opioid epidemic
- $765 million for the water emergency in Flint, Michigan
- $6.4 billion for the extension of unemployment insurance
- $10 billion for the creation of an infrastructure bank.
On Wednesday, Ryan told MSNBC’s Greta Van Susteren that taxpayers would initially pay for the construction of a “physical barrier” along the border, adding that “there are a lot of different ways of getting Mexico to contribute to doing this.”
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto says otherwise.
The actual cost of the wall is also up for debate. The $12 to $15 billion range provided by Republicans is well below other estimates. The MIT Technology Review, for example, predicted it could cost at least $27 to $40 billion when factoring in labor, materials and the wall’s height.