America cannot afford a border wall

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After promising the American people that Mexico would pay for the border wall, President Trump is threatening to shut down the government if he does not get $5 billion to fund this project.[1]  He has rejected the Democrats’ offer of $1.3 billion, maintaining that $5 billion is only “a good start.”[2]  So apparently $5 billion is only the beginning.  Even $1.3 billion is too much.  Here are three reasons why.

First, the wall does not solve the problems.  President Trump says that “drugs are pouring into our country.”[3]  Last year, the Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly testified that drugs “mostly come through the ports of entry” at the border.[4]  So building a wall will not prevent most drugs from entering this country.

And there is no evidence that immigrants are spreading disease or that terrorists are entering the country, two more of President Trump’s claims.[5]  In short, President Trump is demanding to spend more than $5 billion of taxpayer money on a wall that would accomplish little if anything.

Second, spending money on a wall will only increase an already out-of-control deficit, which is up to $898 billion as of three months ago and is projected to balloon to $1 trillion in a little over a year.[6]  Although the deficit has reached this mark in the past, it occurred during an economic downturn when money was spent to stimulate a recovery.[7]  But in the most recent past, we’ve experienced a period of economic growth when the deficit should have been reduced.[8]  Instead, it increased.

Why the concern over a large deficit?  First, a large deficit may hamper the government’s efforts to revive the economy in the event of a downturn.[9]  Second, our interest payments may exceed feasible cuts in the future, making it necessary to default on our interest payments.[10]  Third, our benefits may have to be cut.   Americans may have to delay collecting Social Security, where it is projected to run out of money in 13 years. [11]  The Highway Trust Fund is projected to go broke in four years and the Social Security disability insurance program in seven years.[12]

Spending billions on a border wall now is akin to a homeless person buying a Rolex watch.  If you don’t have the money, don’t buy it.  People do not spend money this recklessly because banks will not permit it.  We, the American people, should not permit our money to be spent on a useless wall.  Spending money in this manner is foolhardy.  Perhaps this is why President Trump has declared bankruptcy six times.[13]

The third problem is that a government shut-down causes problems not just for federal workers but for the American people.  With the exception of mail service, social security checks, military service, air traffic controllers, prison guards, and border patrol agents, government operations come to a halt.[14]  National parks will close, veterans hotlines will shut down, food aid to children and seniors will be cut off, and federal workers will not be paid – just before Christmas.[15]

So unless President Trump gets his wall – and that’s what it is; it does nothing for this country – he will cause a government shutdown.  He said, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country.”[16]  What people of this country don’t want is to see their benefits reduced or destroyed for a wall that fails to keep out drugs and criminals.  Or to delay receiving social security benefits for this useless wall – particularly when the money will be gone because it has been spent on such a frivolous project.  After our government runs out of money, the only thing this wall will accomplish is to keep people in.

 

[1] Eric Warner and John Wagner, Trump, Pelosi and Schumer have on-camera shouting match as wall talks break down, The Washington Post, December 11, 2018.

[2] Philip Bump, Trump’s arguments for necessity of border wall have already been broadly debunked, The Washington Post, December 11, 2018.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Andrew Mayeda, U.S. Budget Deficit Swells to $898 Billion, Topping Forecast, Bloomberg, September 13, 2018.

[7] Id.

[8] Heather Long, Why America’s return to $1 trillion deficits is a big problem for you, The Washington Post, April 9, 2018.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Michelle Lee, Fact Check:  Has Trump declared bankruptcy four or six times?, The Washington Post, September 26, 2016.

[14] Nathaniel Lubin, What’s Affected by a Government Shutdown?, whitehouse.gov, October 1, 2013.

[15] Id.

[16] John T. Bennett, 3 Takeaways From Trump’s Made-for-TV Oval Office Border Brawl, Roll Call, December 11, 2018.

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