President Trump has secured his first down payment on the border wall with Mexico, after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $788 billion spending bill that includes $1.6 billion to begin construction.
The bill also provided a much-needed increase in spending for defense, which includes new jet fighters and funding to improve combat readiness.
The spending bill passed with a vote of 235-192, but it also represents problems for the Defense Department in particular. If a bipartisan budget deal isn’t passed, as Senate Democrats plan to obstruct the process, then automatic sequestration cuts are applied to military spending. That could wipe out potential gains from the House bill.
The bill includes a 5% rise in the budget for veterans programs, as well as a military pay raise of 2.4%.
Republicans praised the budget increase for veterans and the military, and consider the border wall funding a major campaign promise kept.
“Every single dime the President requested to start building a wall on our southern border he’s going to get,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “Most importantly, we’re sending more to the VA to fix veterans’ health care and reform outdated VA systems.”
Still, a potential government shutdown battle over the U.S.-Mexico wall looms with Senate Democrats this fall. The generous defense spending increases also run afoul of strict spending limits set by an earlier budget law, and there’s been no progress on a bipartisan budget deal that would be a prerequisite for the higher spending to take full effect.
Trump promised at nearly every rally and campaign event that Mexico would pay for the wall. Mexico said no, and U.S. taxpayers will have to provide the money.
Critics say that existing fencing is more than enough and that the portions of the border without it are too remote for crossings and that tribal law, environmental requirements, and personal property rights have blocked fencing for most of the rest.
“Nobody would know it from the President’s hysterical rhetoric, but there are already 700 miles of fence down there on the border — vehicular fencing, pedestrian fencing,” said Rep. David Price, D-N.C. “I know about it because most of that fencing was built when I was chairman of the homeland security appropriations subcommittee.”
But most of the sweeping Pentagon increases — which total about $60 billion above current levels and almost $30 billion higher than Trump’s budget — would evaporate next year unless there’s a bipartisan agreement to raise budget “caps” set by a 2011 budget pact. A two-year agreement that eased those “sequestration” spending limits expires in September.
The current bill, however, reflects the changed balance of power in GOP-controlled Washington. Weapons procurement is a top priority, including two additional littoral combat ships above Trump’s request and 14 unrequested next-generation F-35 fighters.