US-Mexico wall Pedro Pardo/Getty Images

The Rising Price of Trump’s Border Wall

Donald Trump is threatening to shut down the US government, or even default on the federal debt, unless Congress provides funding for a wall that he promised would cost taxpayers nothing. If Trump escalates this confrontation, the costs for Americans – in terms of economic uncertainty and slower growth – are likely to pile up.

WASHINGTON, DC – As a candidate, Donald Trump insisted on one signature issue above all: the United States will build a wall along its border with Mexico, and Mexico will pay for it. Seven months after taking office, however, Trump has made no progress on either front: political support for a new wall is diminishing, and the chance that Mexico will pay anything for it is essentially zero and seems to be off the agenda.

Now, Trump is doubling down – and threatening to shut down the government, or even default on the federal debt, unless Congress provides funding for a wall that he promised would cost US taxpayers nothing. If Trump escalates this confrontation, the costs for Americans – in terms of economic uncertainty and slower growth – are likely to pile up.

The amounts of money involved are not large relative to the overall size of the US government. In Trump’s first full-year budget, initial spending on the wall was put at $1.6 billion, with the president estimating that the total cost will be $12 billion (although other estimates are considerably higher). Compared to total US government spending of $3.9 trillion in 2016, that is a drop in the bucket. The argument here is about principles: what would a border wall really achieve from a practical standpoint, and what would it symbolize? But the precise rules about purse strings determine how this argument will play out.

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