Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed that taxpayers will foot the bill for a border wall along the entirety of the U.S.-Mexico border. As much as $15 billion will be authorized, they said today, by Sept. 30. However, they did not say whether they would offset the cost of the wall with cuts to the budget or with tax increases. The announcement came during the midst of the Republicans’ annual retreat, where they are planning for the first 200 days of legislative action on issues such as Obamacare and reforming the tax code.
As for offsetting the cost of the wall, Ryan said that he would “wait and see” what the Trump administration proposed. “I’m not going to get ahead of a policy and bill that has not been written yet,” Ryan said. Trump has repeatedly said, despite denials by Mexican leaders, that Mexico will pay for the wall. As for bilateral relations with the southern neighbor, Ryan expressed confidence that all will be well despite Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s announcement that he will not meet with Trump as planned next week.
Last night, Peña Nieto released a video address on Twitter that said Mexico does not “believe” in walls. “I’ll say it again, Mexico will not pay for any wall,” he added. Trump responded to the video this morning on Twitter, saying that it would be better for Peña Nieto not to come to the planned meeting.
McConnell said today, “We intend to address the wall issue ourselves.” He added, “The president can deal with his relations with other countries.” For his part, Ryan did not use the word “wall” during his press conference. He described the border barrier as fulfilling the Secure Fence Act of 2006.
In an interview with ABC News, Trump told interviewer David Muir that Mexico will pay for the wall “in a form, … it may be a complicated form.” Yesterday, Trump issued an executive order for the wall’s construction. The text of the order offers him some wiggle room because it defines a wall as a “contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous and impassable physical barrier.” Whether that definition would include the current fencing along the border is unclear.
During the campaign, Trump described the wall as “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful,” and noted that there is a “BIG difference” between a “wall” and a “fence.” Currently, almost 700 miles of the border is fenced off. Ryan pointed out that Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer voted for the bipartisan Secure Fence Act, which authorized that fence. By some estimates, an entirely new wall may cost $40 billion. Whether Congress has the wall envisioned by Trump, or the fence that is on the border now, is now unclear.