Trump, Democrats Spar Over Border Wall, Health Care
– By Jim Owen
With the prospect of a partial government shutdown looming, President Trump was demanding to fund for a border wall while Democrats avocated health care reform.
The administration sought $5 billion for the wall along the U.S.-Mexico boundary, which Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill staunchly opposed. Presidential adviser Stephen Miller stressed the urgency of building the barrier, calling it a “fundamental issue.”
Miller declared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the issue is whether the United States maintains its “sovereign” status, and is able to make and enforce regulations concerning who can come into the country. He accused Democrats of favoring illegal immigration, suggesting they are hypocritical for doing that while also claiming to be champions of the working class.
The adviser, when asked whether Trump was willing to allow federal operations to cease over the dispute, responded: “If it comes to it, absolutely.” Miller vowed that the president would “do whatever is necessary” to make good on his promise to erect the wall as part of the effort to curb illegal immigration.
Effects of a Government Shutdown
Some federal functions were scheduled to stop on Friday, Dec. 21, if officials failed to reach a compromise on a spending measure.
The possible shutdown threatened to affect about one-fourth of federal offices, including the Homeland Security, Treasury, Commerce, Interior, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, and Justice departments. Congress had already approved funding for the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services.
A shutdown would shutter independent agencies such as NASA, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Enforcement of regulations concerning food, air, and water quality would be suspended.
Among other anticipated outcomes were the closure of national parks, passport and visa offices, and public health offices. About a third of the 2.1 million federal employees would not get paychecks during a shutdown.
Holiday shoppers who had not yet mailed gifts to family members and friends were relieved to learn that the U.S. Postal Service would continue making deliveries. An agency spokesman told Fox News
that no post office would close because of the shutdown because the Postal Service is an independent agency financed not by taxpayers, but by the income its products and services generate.
Airport security and Amtrak also were to remain in operation, according to Fox News and National Public Radio.
Wall Divides Two Parties
Ever since announcing his candidacy for president in early 2015, Trump has made the wall one of his top priorities. He argues that the project is necessary to stem the tide of migrants from Central America, most of whom are fleeing violence and poverty. Criminals and terrorists are among those attempting to cross the border, according to the president.
In a recent meeting at the White House with the two top-ranking congressional Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Trump proclaimed that he would be “proud” to force a shutdown in pursuit of enhanced border security. He offered to take the blame and not hold Democrats responsible.
Democrats showed no signs they were ready to back down. Schumer told NBC News’ “Meet the Press” that Trump would not get his wall because an insufficient number of lawmakers in the House and Senate are willing to vote for it. The president fired back on Twitter that Democrats who say the border can be secured without building a wall are merely “following the party line.”
During an appearance on Fox News, Sen. Lindsey Graham offered some advice to Trump. The South Carolina Republican declared that if he was in the Oval Office, he would remain firm in demanding money for the wall. Graham said the so-called “caravan” of migrants which recently arrived at the United States’ southern border is strong evidence of the need for the $5 billion the president has requested for the barrier.
Fox News noted that Schumer and Pelosi supported $1.6 billion in expenditures for border security. The money would finance some fencing, but not the wall that the president envisioned.
During his campaign, Trump estimated the cost of erecting a wall along the nearly 2,000-mile-long border at between $8 billion and $12 billion. Experts, who initially set the price tag at $15 billion to $25 billion, now predict the wall would cost about $10 billion.
Trump is determined to make good on his campaign pledge to “make Mexico pay” for the barrier. Former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said that would never happen, and the country’s new leader has not indicated any change in policy. Trump claims that the trade agreement his administration negotiated to replace NAFTA will force Mexico to finance the wall.
In the meantime, U.S. taxpayers are footing the bill. In March, Congress passed legislation earmarking $1.6 billion for 25 miles of the wall, as well as other border-security measures, in Texas. The president described the funding as “an initial downpayment” on the entire project.
Democrats Focus on Health Care
The need for a spending bill to prevent a government shutdown is an opportunity for Democrats to not only thwart Trump on his border wall but also to reform health care laws.
According to Pelosi, her party thinks Congress should work to reduce the rising cost of prescription drugs by negotiating lower rates for Medicare recipients. Democrats also favor health-insurance guarantees for people with pre-existing health conditions, a provision in the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare).
The ACA has survived attacks by congressional Republicans. The House of Representatives, under GOP control the past two years, passed several bills calling for a repeal of the legislation. However, the measures failed by narrow margins in the Senate.
Democrats want to extend Obamacare to provide government-subsidized health insurance to additional low- and moderate-income Americans. Some liberals back an even more radical approach: a so-called “Medicare for all” system covering everyone.
That idea has met with ridicule from Trump. In an op-ed for USA Today, the president dismissed Medicare for all as a “government takeover of American health care.”
He warned that the proposal would deprive the elderly of benefits for which they paid through payroll deductions during their working years. Trump claimed that Medicare for all would destroy the current program. Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and other democratic socialists pushing Medicare for all refute the prediction.
Compromise Difficult to Attain
Some lawmakers expressed hope that both sides could support a temporary solution to the budget fight. One of the options was a spending bill that would delay the government shutdown until January, according to Sen. John Barrasso.
The Wyoming Republican explained on CBS News that many actions, including the erection of a “physical barrier,” need to be taken to beef up border security. He also called for improved technology, more staffing and better enforcement to deter undocumented migrants from entering the country.
Another GOP senator, Susan Collins of Maine, touted her border-security bill, which would allocate $2.5 billion for fencing, technological upgrades and additional Border Patrol officers. She told ABC Newsthat there is “no excuse” for a shutdown over a debate about the wall or anything else.
Republican, Democratic Voters Split
In a survey by NPR and the Marist Poll, conducted in early December, 57 percent of voters agreed with the statement that Trump “should compromise on the border wall to prevent gridlock.” Thirty-six percent said he should not do so, “even if it means a government shutdown.”
Barbara Carvalho of the Marist Poll said the wall controversy has exacerbated the partisan divide. She pointed out that many of Trump’s supporters are avid proponents of the barrier, but Democratic and independent voters do not see it as a high priority. The one point on which nearly everyone who responded to the poll agreed was that a shutdown is a bad idea.
Twenty-eight percent (including 63 percent of Republicans) called the wall an “immediate priority for Congress,” compared with 69 percent who held the opposite view. Fifty-three percent praised Trump’s “protection of U.S. borders,” but only 44 percent supported his immigration policies overall.
Another recent poll, by USA Today and Suffolk University, found that voters opposed a shutdown over the wall dispute by a margin of 54 percent to 29 percent. When asked whom they would blame for a shutdown, 43 percent cited Trump while 24 percent named congressional Democrats. Thirty percent said both sides would be responsible.
The survey results reflected the chasm separating members of the two political parties. Eighty-three percent of Democrats, compared with just 25 percent of Republicans, said funding for the wall is not a good reason to shut down the government. Fifty-six percent of independent voters agreed with the Democratic position.