Trump to ask Congress for additional US$8.6b for border wall

Request is unlikely to win congressional passage as Democrats control the House of Representatives


US PRESIDENT Donald Trump will on Monday ask the US Congress for an additional US$8.6 billion to help pay for the wall that he promised to build on the southern border with Mexico to combat illegal immigration and drug trafficking, officials familiar with his 2020 budget request told Reuters.

The demand is more than six times what Congress allocated for border projects in each of the past two fiscal years, and 6 per cent more than Mr Trump has corralled by invoking emergency powers this year.

Democrats, who oppose the wall as unnecessary and immoral, control the US House of Representatives, making it unlikely that the Republican president's request will win congressional passage. Republicans control the Senate.

The proposal comes on the heels of a bruising battle with Congress over wall funding that resulted in a five-week partial federal government shutdown that ended in January, and could touch off a sequel just ahead of a trifecta of ominous fiscal deadlines looming this autumn.

Regardless of whether Congress passes it, the budget request could help Mr Trump frame his argument on border security as the 2020 presidential race begins to take shape, with the president seeking re-election.

"Build the wall" was one of his signature campaign pledges in his first run for office in 2016. "Finish the wall" is already a feature of his re-election campaign, a rallying cry plastered across banners and signs at his campaign rallies.

"It gives the president the ability to say he has fulfilled his commitment to gain operational control of the south-west border," an administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said of the budget request.

"We have provided the course of action, the strategy and the request to finish the job. It's a question of: will Congress allow us to finish the job," a second administration official said.

Funding legislation needs to be passed before Oct 1 - the start of the 2020 federal fiscal year - or the government could shut down again. If Congress and the White House fail to agree to lift mandatory spending caps set in a 2011 law, steep automatic cuts in many programmes would kick in. Around the same time, Mr Trump and lawmakers must agree to lift the debt ceiling, or risk a default, which would have chaotic economic fallout.

Mr Trump's wall request is based on a 2017 plan put forward by Customs and Border Protection officials to build or replace 1,162 km of barrier along the border, which in total is estimated to cost about US$18 billion.

So far, only 179 km have been built or are underway, officials said. In fiscal 2017, US$341 million in funding was allocated for 64 km of wall, and in 2018, another US$1.375 billion was directed to 132 km.

For fiscal 2019, Mr Trump demanded US$5.7 billion in wall funds, but Congress appropriated only US$1.375 billion for border fencing projects.

Following the rejection of his wall funding demand, Mr Trump declared the border was a national emergency - a move opposed by Democrats and some Republicans - and redirected US$601 million in Treasury Department forfeiture funds, US$2.5 billion in Defense Department drug interdiction funds and US$3.6 billion from a military construction budget, for total spending of US$8.1 billion for the wall.

The administration has not estimated how far the 2019 funds will go, but officials said that average costs are about US$25 million per mile (1.6 km).

Mr Trump's US$8.6 billion in proposed wall funding for fiscal 2020 would include US$5 billion from the Department of Homeland Security budget and US$3.6 billion from the Pentagon's military construction budget. The budget proposal will also include another US$3.6 million in military construction funding to make up for any projects delayed by the wall, officials said. REUTERS

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