White House reveals details for Mexico border wall ahead of budget proposal

The metal fence along the border in Sonoyta, Sonora state, northern Mexico, between the Altar desert in Mexico and the Arizona desert in the United States.
The metal fence along the border in Sonoyta, Sonora state, northern Mexico, between the Altar desert in Mexico and the Arizona desert in the United States. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - The White House released some details of two of the larger components of its 2018 budget that it will send to Congress on Tuesday (May 23). Money it wants to spend on the military and a southern border wall will be part of a wish list that will serve as the opening bid in negotiations over funding the government next year.

A beefed-up version of the “skinny” budget President Donald Trump released in March is expected to include long-term projections on spending and tax revenues. It will also shed light on how the Trump administration plans to address funding for programs such as Social Security and Medicare.  

As Trump learned during last month’s negotiations for funding the government through the 2017 fiscal year, the White House often does not get its way when dealing with Congress, particularly when votes from Democrats are required.

Congressional budget committees are expected to craft their own budget proposals in June, and many Republicans already signalled that the draconian cuts that Trump wants to make to domestic programmes are nonstarters.  

Trump will get the opportunity to put more specific numbers on some of his big promises in the budget released next week. But the administration offered some new details about how Trump wants to go about bolstering the military and building the wall along the border with Mexico.

Senior officials of the Office of Management and Budget offered a preview of where some of the money the president is requesting would go.

Border Wall Materials

The US$2.6 billion that Trump is requesting for border security is a small portion of the federal government’s overall US$4 trillion-plus budget. But it garners substantial attention because the project has polarised Americans.

According to officials, US$1.6 billion of that money would go toward materials to build the wall. That would initially be used for continuing the levy wall in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and replacing existing fencing in El Paso and in San Diego.  

Planning the Wall

The remaining US$1 billion would go toward planning for the rest of the wall and other security measures. Customs and Border Protection is selecting bidders to build prototypes through a competition in San Diego this summer.

They are building sample walls that are made of both concrete and other materials. Companies are working on the projects in an area that is already government property.

Wall Alternatives

Trump has offered various estimates for how much of a wall will really be needed, but an Office of Management and Budget official made clear that the government would not be building along the entire 2,000-mile border.

“There are places where it doesn’t make sense,” the official said.  So the government intends to buy equipment that would supplement or substitute for a physical wall.

The budget request will allocate US$239 million for aircraft and aviation sensors, US$197 million for fixed surveillance technology, including towers, radar and cameras, and US$202 million for what it described as “critical equipment” such as radios, computers and weapons.

It also wants US$111 million allocated for roads to access parts of the border that are now hard to reach.

Troops

The biggest parcel of money in Trump’s budget goes to the Defence Department, which would see a US$52 billion increase if the president’s wishes are granted.  Some of the funds would go toward adding 56,000 troops, with nearly half of that going to the Army.

Money is also allocated for training current troops.

Weapons

The president’s budget calls for a US$19 billion investment in equipment, including 70 F-35 and 14 F/A-18 fighter jets.  The Pentagon would increase funding for B-21 bombers by US$2 billion and spend US$4.6 billion to finish one aircraft carrier and begin a next-generation carrier.