Amid opposition, Trump makes low budget request for Mexico border wall

By Reuters/Julia Edwards Ainsley, Roberta Rampton   May 23, 2017 | 08:12 am GMT+7
Amid opposition, Trump makes low budget request for Mexico border wall
A general view shows a newly built section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall at Sunland Park, U.S. opposite the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, November 9, 2016. Photo by Reuters/Jose Luis Gonzalez/File Photo

'A president's budget is a wish list, and many of the proposals in it may not become law.'

U.S. President Donald Trump is asking Congress for $1.6 billion to begin building a wall along the border with Mexico, far short of the amount needed for a project sharply criticized by Democrats and even some conservative Republicans.

An internal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plan in February estimated the total cost for the wall at $21.6 billion but the White House's budget proposal for 2018, details of which were released on Monday, included a request for just $1.6 billion.

Two Republican aides in Congress said the modest request is an acknowledgement from the White House that full funding is not realistic given opposition from Freedom Caucus conservatives in the House of Representatives as well as Democrats in the House and the Senate.

They said that unless Trump is able to rally broader support and win more funding for construction in another fiscal year, his plans for a "big beautiful wall" that he promised during his election campaign last year may not be realized.

The $1.6 billion would allow the administration to build small parts of the proposed wall.

Trump has said he will find a way for Mexico to repay the United States for construction of the wall but that Congress would need to fund it first.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus said earlier this year that Trump would have to show how he would offset the cost of a wall, while Democrats flatly oppose the proposed wall.

Facing opposition, the White House pulled its request for full funding for the wall in the 2017 fiscal year and said it would revisit the issue in the next budget.

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President Donald Trump's FY2018 budget is seen printed at the Government Publishing Office in Washington, U.S. on May 19, 2017. Photo by Reuters/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

One of the aides said Trump still lacks the support needed. "Nothing has changed politically on the wall."

So far, the Department of Homeland Security has solicited bids for prototypes of a wall using $20 million in existing funds, but no government contractors have been selected to begin construction.

A DHS memo shared with a Senate committee last month said the agency would be able to build 34 miles (55 km) of a levee wall in Texas's Rio Grande Valley and replace 14 miles (23 km) of fence in San Diego with $1 billion.

Slash healthcare for poor, other programs

The White House is set to release President Donald Trump's first full budget on Tuesday, a plan that will include a cut of more than $800 billion from the Medicaid program for the poor and reductions in other social spending.

The Medicaid cuts were part of a Republican healthcare bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in early May, which aims to gut the Obama administration's 2010 law that expanded insurance coverage and the government-run Medicaid program.

But the bill - and its politically sensitive cuts - faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Trump's initial budget outline for discretionary spending received a tepid response from Congress, which controls the purse strings, and, ultimately, government spending. He said in March he wanted to boost defense spending and slash foreign aid.

His full budget will include his plans for mandatory programs, and was expected to propose cuts for means-tested programs for low-income people, such as food stamps and rental assistance, according to some media reports.

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Photo by Reuters.

It is unlikely that Congress, which passes its own budgets and appropriates public money, would approve a raft of cuts to social programs.

"A president's budget is a wish list, and many of the proposals in it may not become law," Brian Gardner, an analyst with KBW Washington, said in a note to clients.

But budget expert Robert Greenstein said it would be a mistake to write off Trump's budget as completely "dead on arrival" in Congress.

Republicans are under pressure to deliver promised tax cuts, the cornerstone of the Trump administration's pro-business economic agenda, and are expected to use the budget reconciliation process to achieve that goal. That process would require a simple majority in the Senate, meaning Republicans would not need to count on any votes from Democrats.

Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus may insist on some of the cost-cutting measures to approve the budget package, said Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

"We expect this budget to be the most aggressive proposal by any modern president to shift large amounts of income and resources from low- and modest-income households struggling to get by, to those at the top," Greenstein told reporters.

The budget will propose deep cuts to Environmental Protection Agency grants to state and local governments.

It will include a plan for $200 billion in funding to encourage state and local governments to boost spending on roads, bridges, airports and other infrastructure programs, and a $25 billion plan to give parents six weeks of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child.

The budget is being delivered as the White House deals with the political fallout from Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey two weeks ago. Comey was leading a probe of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and Moscow's possible ties to the Trump campaign.

Trump is currently overseas on his first foreign trip since assuming office in January. 

Tags: Trump