A Republican congressman this week offered legislation that would fund President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall using a procedure to bypass the Senate filibuster that led to passage of last year’s tax cut.
The wall was Trump’s signature campaign promise, but he mostly has been stymied by Congress. Although lawmakers devoted $1.6 billion to border barriers, most of it has been used for repairing and upgrading existing fencing.
A House committee this summer passed a spending measure for the current fiscal year that includes $5 billion for the wall and additional funding for border security, although it includes an expansion of guest-worker visas, language thwarting efforts by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to narrow grounds for asylum and other provisions opposed by immigration hawks.
Senate Republicans have pressed ahead with plans to keep wall funding at $1.6 billion.
The problem is that the Senate requires a filibuster-proof 60 votes for almost all legislation. With unified Democratic opposition to the wall, Senate leaders have concluded it is pointless to aim for anything more ambitious.
Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) would avoid that logjam by tying funding to a budget bill. This would allow Republicans — if they could stay unified — to pass wall funding on a party-line vote.
“Obviously, we’re thinking outside the box … I’m frustrated. We’re all frustrated,” he told LifeZette. “We’ve passed the border funding bill out of the House. It’s been stuck in the Senate.”
The so-called 50 Votes for the Wall Act would set up a $25 billion trust fund and direct the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to finalize construction by the end of Trump’s first term. By setting up a trust fund, Byrne said, it would make it harder for Democrats to undo through the regular appropriations process.
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“We think it is a way to lock it up as much as you can lock it up,” he said.
The proposal has attracted 17 co-sponsors, including Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
R.J. Hauman, director of government relations at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), praised the idea.
“This is definitely a unique way to fund the president’s signature promise,” he said. “When faced with unprecedented Democratic obstruction, why not go a route we haven’t gone before? … It’s damn creative. Congressman Byrne and his staff should, obviously, be praised.”
The idea is far from a sure bet, however. It first would have to win the backing of Republican leaders in both the House and the Senate. And even if it did, it is not certain that the Senate parliamentarian would rule that the maneuver complies with the arcane Senate rules.
What’s more, a border wall bill might not even pass with a simple majority. Republican leaders tried to repeal Obamacare using the same method and came up short. With only 51 Republican votes, the margin for error is low, and more than a few GOP senators have been lukewarm to the idea of a wall.
Byrne (pictured above left) said he is confident that the idea would comply with Senate rules. He said his staff has been working with the Congressional Research Service (CRS). He said he is convinced that this is a “viable path” that could make the border bill law following the midterm elections.
Byrne said he has not yet talked to House Republican leaders but added that their staffs seem “fascinated by this idea.”
Hauman said he hopes Congress moves forward on the plan.
“It’s good to see Republicans get creative. Hopefully, leadership will be open to employing the same process that was successful for tax reform.”
“It’s good to see Republicans get creative,” he said. “Hopefully, leadership will be open to employing the same process that was successful for tax reform.”
If Republicans lose control of the House in next month’s midterm elections, it could kill momentum for the border wall, or it could increase urgency to pass it in a lame-duck session before the new Congress takes office.
“I’ve heard the argument both ways,” Byrne said. “Quite frankly, I think the election results are less important on our getting this through than on people’s understanding that these problems we’re experiencing right now are only going to get worse. I mean, this situation is getting worse by the year.”
Byrne’s bill joins several other proposes for building the wall. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) in August offered legislation to fund the wall by taxing money transfers outside of the United States, raising fees for immigration services, and withholding foreign aid to countries for each citizen who comes illegally to the United States.
Earlier this month, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) sponsored his own bill to provide $23 billion for the wall.
Byrne said he could foresee his bill and McCarthy’s moving together. He said the two migrant caravans heading toward the United States should increase pressure to pass the legislation.
“The facts on the ground are changing everything,” he said. “I mean, just the visual of this large group of people moving through Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico — just those visuals are changing a lot of people’s perceptions of this problem.”