President Donald Trump may get only around $1.4 billion for his signature anti-illegal immigration measure — the border wall — but the White House appears to have a plan to acquire the rest of the funding necessary to build the full wall, they'll just need to be more creative with finances to do it.
Reuters reports that the White House has tentatively agreed to support a congressional compromise budget bill that avoids a second government shutdown in as many months, even though the $1.4 billion the bill includes for Trump's wall along the southern border falls far short of what the White Houes wanted, a cool $5.7 billion.
The White House remains concerned about the political fallout, however, from a second shutdown, even though polls show that Americans would likely blame Democrats for failing to come to a budget deal, but they also recognize that the border wall is a popular issue, with something around 2/3s of Americans supporting some form of physical barrier across the southern border.
To that end, the White House has reportedly been exploring "other options," aside from begging Congress to fully fund the border wall on an incremental basis. Trump still hasn't given up on potentially declaring a national emergency, which would allow the White House to expend unlimited funds to handle the project, but the administration recognizes that such an extreme option could lose them the political cache they've gained over the past several weeks.
According to Politico, the White House believes that Trump could "build the wall" by executive order — a strategy that walks the line between allocating funds on an emergency basis and treating the wall as a top priority, without much obvious expenditure of political capital.
"Done by executive order, this plan would allow the White House to shift money from different budgetary accounts without congressional approval, circumventing Democrats who refuse to give Trump anything like the $5.7 billion he has demanded. Nor would it require a controversial emergency declaration," Politico reports.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told Meet the Press that the hybrid budget/EO strategy is the "most likely outcome" of the border wall fight, and that the president already has access to "certain sums of money" he would need to make up the cost of the wall itself.
The trick for Trump will be deciding where to pull the money from. More than likely, the president would shift "military and disaster relief funds," according to Business Insider. Since the money has to come from appropriations already made to certain states, Trump would likely target Democratic districts for "reappropriation." It might trigger lawsuits, but it would be less politically costly than an emergency declaration.
The Washington Post points out that if Trump is willing to wait a few months to achieve his priorities he could also hit Democrats where it hurts — holding domestic spending hostage to his $5 billion demand.
In 10 months’ time, if Congress fails to act, then an automatic sequester will kick in that would reduce federal spending in 2020 to levels that Congress and President Barack Obama set in the Budget Control Act of 2011. Congress agreed to lift those spending caps for two years in 2018, increasing both defense and nondefense discretionary spending above sequester levels by $165 billion and $131 billion, respectively. But that deal runs out at the end of the year. If Congress does not lift the caps by December, then automatic $55 billion across-the-board cuts to domestic discretionary spending will take place, while defense spending will be cut by $71 billion.
Put succinctly, there will be a freeze placed on domestic spending increaseses, many of which are Democratic priorities. Trump could refuse to allow Congress to lift the spending caps, which keep Congress from spending around $55 billion, unless they agree to allow him to spend $5 billion.
That seems like a good trade-off, but both Trump and his supporters will have to exhibit a patience with the border wall they haven't been willing to exhibit up until now.