Trump's Budget To Include $8.6 Billion In Border Wall Funding
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Today we hear the way that President Trump's White House might spend the federal budget if he could decide. Like its predecessors, the White House proposes an annual budget. The decisions are up to Congress, which is not often inclined to take any president's exact requests. But the budget shows the president's priorities, including a request for another $8.6 billion to build a border wall. The acting director of the Office of Management and Budget for the president is Russell Vought, and he's on the line.
Good morning, sir.
RUSSELL VOUGHT: Good morning. Thanks for having me on, Steve.
INSKEEP: Welcome to the program.
Didn't the president's previous insistence on extra border wall funding end in a shutdown and no progress for him?
VOUGHT: Well, we think we're making progress. We didn't get everything that we made - we requested in the end of last year's appropriations bill. However, the president, as you know, has moved forward with his authorities and statutes to declare this is a national emergency along our border. And as a result, we have appropriations that have been passed by Congress and access to those appropriations through reprogramming statutes that we intend to put forward towards the wall.
So we will have completed about half of the miles that are necessary for the top 17 projects that are important to the Department of Homeland Security with the use of that national emergency money. And so this additional request is to complete the wall and the full top 17 projects.
INSKEEP: OK. So that's why you get the $8.6 billion. But let's remember that there was this government shutdown; it was massively unpopular and very disruptive of course. The president, in the end, got about the same thing as he was offered before the shutdown. He did declare a national emergency. But Congress is on its way to quite possibly rebuking the president on that.
VOUGHT: And the president's made it very clear that he - if the - if the Congress sends him a rebuke in the form of a disapproval resolution, he will veto that. So far, the - the - the House or Senate has not reached veto - overriding the veto margins. So this is something that is going forward. And we think it'll make significant project - progress along our southern border.
INSKEEP: I want to play a bit of tape for you if I can. This is a rancher and veterinarian who works along the border in Cochise County, Ariz. His name is Gary Thrasher, and we asked him over the weekend about border fencing. And this is part of what he had to say.
GARY THRASHER: It's very effective in some places by - to slow them down. But that's all it does is slow people down. It doesn't absolutely stop them a hundred percent and never will.
INSKEEP: Is it possible that this focus on the wall by the president is really just kind of a diversion from a more sophisticated and broader border strategy that includes a lot of different elements?
VOUGHT: No. And in fact, I think it's a mistake to think that we've only ever been talking about building the wall. We have always been talking about a full border control policy solution that includes additional agents; additional technology at our ports of entry; certainly the wall, or fencing, which the Democrats have passed repeatedly in their history and voted for; humanitarian aid; surveillance equipment - all of these things are parts of what is necessary to secure the border. It just so happens that the most disagreement that we find with our friends across the aisle is as it pertains to the border wall.
INSKEEP: Let me ask you about a couple of other items if I can. If I'm not mistaken, defense spending goes up in this proposal. Diplomatic spending, spending for the State Department, goes down. Why is this a time for less diplomacy?
VOUGHT: It's not a time for less diplomacy. Diplomacy will be fully funded in this budget. What you're referring to is the portion of the budget that is included in State and USAID for foreign aid. So foreign aid does go down by about 23 percent. It's something that we think is important that if we are funding the priorities of this administration, securing the country, that we need to be able to pare back, you know, our spending in other countries. We're tired of the NASA space camp being spent in Pakistan. We are tired of money being spent to set up a cricket league in Afghanistan.
We just think that at the end of the day, although it's a smaller percentage of the budget, it's still significant. In a time of $1 trillion deficits, we can no longer afford some of these activities.
INSKEEP: You know, I'm curious about that, Mr. Vought. Foreign aid is unpopular; proposing cuts to foreign aid can be popular. But the United States is in this big competition with China - and the president's very concerned about China - for global influence. And China is investing a lot of money around the globe. Is this a time the United States should be pulling back on the relatively small investments we make?
VOUGHT: Well, again, it's not about pulling back in our competition with China. We have a major new proposal that is reflected in this budget that is coming straight from Congress and the reforms that they made to reform our Overseas Private Investment Corporation and development assistance. These are things that - it is fully funded and allows us to compete with Congress along the lines of what you just mentioned. But we do want to get rid of some of the waste and inefficiencies that we see in our foreign aid.
INSKEEP: Russell Vought of the Office of Management Budget, thanks so much for taking the time. Really appreciate it.
VOUGHT: Thank you. Bye.
INSKEEP: And NPR's Mara Liasson, our national political correspondent, has been listening along. Mara, what'd you hear there?
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: I heard that the budget is going to be an expression of the president's vision and priorities. That's what budgets are. They are rarely - if ever - accepted by Congress as written. As a matter of fact, the cliche is they're dead on arrival - and especially this year with divided government, Democrats controlling the House, this one probably will be.
But I think you heard the acting OMB director pretty clearly express what this budget tells us that the president wants. He wants more defense spending. He wants less spending on domestic programs - a lot less on foreign aid, which is minuscule to begin with. And he wants money for the border wall, in his telling, to finish the border wall. So this is a political document first and foremost, and it expresses the president's priorities.
INSKEEP: There was also, in that interview, a passing mention of the deficit and a concern about the deficit. But of course, the deficit has soared under President Trump. Do you believe that Republicans or, for that matter, Democrats particularly care about the budget deficit?
LIASSON: I think right now neither party cares about the budget deficit. It's basically Republicans used to be the party of fiscal responsibility; that was part of their brand. That's pretty much disappeared. As you said, the budget deficit is now on - at record levels. President Trump campaigned on not only getting rid of the deficit but actually getting rid of the entire national debt, but that has pretty much disappeared as a priority.
INSKEEP: And of course, when you say record levels, the deficit has been higher. But in times of recession, to have a deficit of this size...
LIASSON: Yes, that's I mean - in peacetime - which means that if there is a recession, there's no room for fiscal stimulus.
INSKEEP: Mara, thanks so much.
LIASSON: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.