Trump has 3 border wall trump cards
One way or another, President Trump will be rewarding his supporters with billions of dollars' worth of border wall construction. Those of little faith who denounced him for failure on the border wall when the GOP House passed a continuing resolution with no funding for the wall – a group that includes Ann Coulter, just unfollowed by the POTUS on Twitter – failed to reckon with his wiliness. Not only did he succeed on motivating Paul Ryan to get the funding back in and pass a substitute C.R., but he is poised to get his way with or without the assent of the Senate.
He has, in essence, given opponents of acceding to his program to protect the border the easy way or the hard way.
The easy way would be for Chuck Schumer to allow eight of his senators to vote in favor of the new C.R. and have it pass.
It is unlikely that Amy Schumer's cousin would agree, but even if he stands fast, he will not like the first trump card that Trump mentioned this morning in a tweet:
Mitch, use the Nuclear Option and get it done! Our Country is counting on you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 21, 2018
This puts a hot potato in Mitch McConnell's lap. He probably does not relish the prospect of losing the filibuster as a weapon to use against a future Democrat majority in the Senate.
If McConnell demurs, this leaves a second trump card: use of the budget reconciliation process that allows a simple Senate majority to enact legislation:
Created by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, reconciliation allows for expedited consideration of certain tax, spending, and debt limit legislation. In the Senate, reconciliation bills aren't subject to filibuster and the scope of amendments is limited, giving this process real advantages for enacting controversial budget and tax measures.
If Congress fails to do this, he has a third trump card. Jason Chaffetz explains:
Each year the government spends hundreds of billions of dollars on things that are not specifically authorized by Congress. Both Democrats and Republicans have been complicit in this practice. ...
Washington's dirty little secret is that unauthorized spending is not even uncommon anymore. As a freshman member of Congress, this truth stunned me – and I was not alone. By my estimation, there were many in the body who disapproved of the practice. But to our disappointment, the body as a whole was not inclined to address the issue.
The Democrats may feign exasperation with the president potentially spending "unauthorized" money on the wall, but they have enthusiastically participated in the budgetary games that will make it possible. During the Obama administration, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated $310 billion was spent on unauthorized appropriations in FY 2016 – the last fiscal year of his presidency.
The federal budget is enormous – more than $4 trillion each year, of which roughly $1 trillion is discretionary. It is Congress's job to authorize programs and appropriate funds for them from this $1 trillion.
However, the budget categories under which programs are authorized and funds are appropriated are very broad, and since Congress doesn't pass specific language about every last dollar's use, discretionary funds are inevitably used for things that Congress never specifically funds.
The administration already is identifying where money can be found in the various Cabinet agencies. Yes, there will be a hue and cry over such spending, as there always is, no matter what initiative Trump takes. He will be denounced as a dictator, but then again, he already has been many times.
Trump can expose his critics' hypocrisy by pointing to all the history Chaffetz mentions. He can also justify the construction on national security grounds.
I won't be pretty or quiet, but he will get his construction started and work his way through the inevitable court challenges and decisions from judges in Hawaii or California.
Trump is a president like no other, and he believes – correctly in my view – that ultimately, he will win the battle for public opinion because, as is obvious, if you don't have a border, you don't have a sovereign country.
Photo credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection.