Trump reviving his border wall fight with new budget request
By LISA MASCARO
AP Congressional Correspondent
Monday, March 11
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is reviving his border wall fight, preparing a new budget that will seek $8.6 billion for his signature project, impose steep spending cuts to other domestic programs and set the stage for another fiscal battle.
Budget documents like the one Trump is releasing Monday are often seen as just a starting point of negotiation. Fresh off the longest government shutdown in history, Trump’s 2020 proposal shows he is eager to confront Congress again to boost defense spending and cut $2.7 trillion in nondefense spending over a decade.
Titled “A Budget for a Better America: Promises Kept. Taxpayers First,” Trump’s proposal “embodies fiscal responsibility,” said Russ Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Vought said the administration has “prioritized reining in reckless Washington spending” and shows “we can return to fiscal sanity.”
Speaking on CNBC Monday, Vought confirmed that the $8.6 billion border request was part of Trump’s spending blueprint for the 2020 budget year, which begins Oct. 1. It would pay for hundreds of miles of new barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Vought said “the border situation is deteriorating by the day” with “record numbers of apprehensions.”
An administration official said Trump’s budget proposes increasing defense spending to $750 billion — and standing up the new Space Force as a military branch — while reducing nondefense accounts by 5 percent, with cuts recommended to safety-net programs used by many Americans.
The plan sticks to budget caps that both parties have routinely broken in recent years and promises to come into balance in 15 years, relying in part on economic growth that may be uncertain.
The official was not authorized to discuss budget details publicly before Monday’s release of the plan and spoke on condition of anonymity.
While pushing down spending in some areas, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the proposal will seek to increase funding in others to align with the president’s priorities, according to one official.
The administration will invest more than $80 billion for veterans services, a nearly 10 percent increase from current levels, including “significant” investments in rehabilitation, employment assistance and suicide prevention.
It will also increase resources to fight the opioid epidemic with money for prevention, treatment, research and recovery, the administration said. And it seeks to shift some federal student loan costs to colleges and universities.
The proposal will also include $1 billion for a child care fund that would seek to improve access to care for underserved populations, a White House official confirmed. The one-time allocation is championed by the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump, who has focused on economic advancement for women in her role as a White House adviser.
By adhering to strict budget caps, Trump is signaling a fight ahead. The president has resisted big, bipartisan budget deals that break the caps — threatening to veto one last year — but Congress will need to find agreement on spending levels to avoid another federal shutdown in fall. To stay within the caps, the budget shifts a portion of the defense spending to an overseas contingency fund, which some fiscal hawks will view as an accounting gimmick.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Trump’s budget “points a steady glide path” toward lower spending and borrowing as a share of the nation’s economy. He also told “Fox News Sunday” that there was no reason to “obsess” about deficits, and expressed confidence that economic growth would top 3 percent in 2019 and beyond. Others have predicted lower growth.
But the Democratic chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky, called the proposed cuts to essential services “dangerous.” He said Trump added nearly $2 trillion to deficits with the GOP’s “tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations, and now it appears his budget asks the American people to pay the price.”
The border wall, though, remains a signature issue for the president and is poised to stay at the forefront of his agenda, even though Congress has resisted giving him more money for it.
Leading Democrats immediately rejected the proposal.
“Congress refused to fund his wall and he was forced to admit defeat and reopen the government. The same thing will repeat itself if he tries this again,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York. They said the money “would be better spent on rebuilding America.”
In seeking $8.6 billion for more than 300 miles of new border wall, the budget request would more than double the $8.1 billion already potentially available to the president for the wall after he declared a national emergency at the border last month in order to circumvent Congress — although there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to use that money if he faces a legal challenge, as is expected. The standoff over the wall led to a 35-day partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history.
Along with border wall money, the proposed budget will also increase funding to increase the “manpower” of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and Customs and Border Patrol at a time when many Democrats are calling for cuts — or even the elimination — of those areas. The budget also proposes policy changes to end sanctuary cities, the administration said.
The budget would arrive as the Senate readies to vote this week to terminate Trump’s national emergency declaration. The Democratic-led House already did so, and a handful of Republican senators, uneasy over what they see as an overreach of executive power, are expected to join Senate Democrats in following suit. Congress appears to have enough votes to reject Trump’s declaration but not enough to overturn a veto.
Trump invoked the emergency declaration after Congress approved nearly $1.4 billion for border barriers, far less than the $5.7 billion he wanted. In doing so, he can potentially tap an additional $3.6 billion from military accounts and shift it to building the wall. That’s causing discomfort on Capitol Hill, where even the president’s Republican allies are protective of their power to decide how to allocate federal dollars. Lawmakers are trying to guard money that’s already been approved for military projects in their states — for base housing or other improvements — for the wall. The administration is promising to backfill those funds, senators said.
The wall with Mexico punctuated Trump’s campaign for the White House, and it’s expected to again be featured in his 2020 re-election effort. He used to say Mexico would pay for it, but Mexico has refused to do so.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in Palm Beach, Florida, and Andrew Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.
Opinion: Senate Deals Blow to Trump’s Autocratic Ambitions
By Robert Weissman
The Senate’s overwhelming 59-41 vote to overturn President Trump’s emergency declaration is a major blow to Trump’s autocratic ambitions.
If Trump is able to get away with his fake emergency to build a pointless and racist wall in contravention of Congress’ explicit decision not to fund the project, then there’s every reason to suspect he will cry “emergency” in the future, for even more nefarious ends.
If you’re wondering what a frightening emergency scenario might look like, consider former Trump fixer Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight Committee: “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”
Trump is sure to veto the resolution of disapproval. Yet whether or not Congress overrides the veto, passage of the resolution of disapproval is a powerful political rejection of Trump’s illegal and improper use of emergency powers and more generally of his authoritarianism and disregard for the Constitution.
The bipartisan vote in both houses rejecting Trump’s emergency will make it far harder for Trump to declare another emergency. It is hoped it will arrest, and certainly will slow, the country’s slide to authoritarianism.
In a desperate bid to protect their party’s president, Republican senators sought a deal to permit this constitutional infringement in exchange for common sense reforms to the National Emergencies Act. The proposal, authored by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, would permit presidents to declare an emergency and access emergency powers for only 30 days, unless Congress affirmatively voted to permit the emergency to stay in force. That Trump rejected even that deal is yet more evidence of his belief that his powers should be unconstrained — and a disturbing sign that he wants to preserve maximum freedom to declare fake emergencies in the future.
The dozen Senate Republicans who voted against Trump took no pleasure in rebuking their party’s leader. To their credit, they chose principle over partisanship. Republicans voting for the resolution of disapproval support Trump’s proposal to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. But they recognized the peril in tolerating Trump’s emergency declaration maneuver.
Said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee: “Never before has a president asked for funding, the Congress has not provided it, and then the president then has used the National Emergencies Act of 1976 to spend the money anyway. The problem with this is that after a Revolutionary War against a king, our nation’s founders gave to Congress, a Congress elected by the people, the power to approve all spending so that the president would not have too much power. This check on the executive is a source of our freedom.”
Other Republicans failed the test of character, going through contortions to explain why they would tolerate this executive branch power grab when they had denounced far more modest exertions of executive power by President Barack Obama.
The Senate’s vote to approve the resolution of disapproval was not preordained. Republicans consistently have voted for the president, even when they disagreed with him. Only one Republican facing re-election in 2020 — Sen. Susan Collins of Maine — voted for the resolution, and uniquely among Republicans she has a political self-interest in showing independence from Trump. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina had stated that there would be “no intellectual honesty” in supporting Trump after criticizing executive action by Obama, but he reversed himself when it came time to vote, reportedly out of fear for the electoral consequences.
Strong public opposition to the emergency declaration — as high as 70 percent in some polling — was strongly expressed, with tens of thousands demonstrating against the emergency declaration, tens of thousands of calls made to the Senate, more than half a million petition signatures delivered and Americans across the country delivering Constitutions to their senators to remind them of their duties. The Americans rose up and made their voices clear, and as a result, Congress responded to protect our constitutional values.
My organization, Public Citizen, has sued to block implementation of the emergency declaration, as have other organizations and states and cities. We believe the courts should and will find the declaration illegal and unconstitutional.
But the ultimate guarantee of our constitutional democracy and a just society is not the courts, but the people. We the People must continue to mobilize to stop Trump’s unconstitutional power grabs, whether Trump uses fake “emergency” claims or any other means.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Robert Weissman is the president of Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Danger ahead in the constitutional standoff over Trump’s emergency declaration
March 19, 2019
Author: William E. Nelson, Professor of Law, New York University
Disclosure statement: William E. Nelson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration to build a border wall has provoked a constitutional confrontation with Congress.
Here’s how we got to this point. On Feb. 26, the House voted 245-182 under the National Emergency Act to overturn President Trump’s emergency declaration.
On March 14, the Senate passed that resolution by a 59-41 vote.
After the vote, the president tweeted one word: “VETO!” And in a televised ceremony on March 15, President Trump signed the veto proclamation stating that he did so lawfully under the National Emergencies Act.
The measure now goes back to the House of Representatives, where Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi has scheduled a veto override vote for March 26.
The background for understanding what’s at stake begins more than two centuries ago. Looking at how the framers of the Constitution structured the separation of powers and checks and balances between Congress and the president shows how this standoff is better resolved by the political branches rather than by the courts.
Strong yet limited presidential power
A major problem for the framers at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 was how to create a presidency powerful enough to protect the nation, yet constrained enough to prevent a president from becoming a dictator.
Ultimately, the president was given power to enforce the law, conduct foreign relations and command the armed forces. Congress retained most other key powers, including the power of the purse and the power to declare war.
The framers knew they could not predict all that the future would bring. So they left the precise boundaries between presidential and congressional power unclear. This imprecision in our checks and balances has served the nation well for 230 years because it provides the flexibility to govern while preventing tyranny.
As scholars of constitutional law and history, we believe that President Trump’s assertion of a national emergency to build a wall along the Mexican border and the lawsuits filed in response together threaten the very imprecision that has helped maintain constitutional checks and balances for more than two centuries.
To best maintain that balance, this confrontation should be resolved in the political realm.
The national emergency
But the lawsuits over the emergency declaration will probably reach the Supreme Court, and the court might well hold Trump’s emergency declaration unconstitutional.
That would set a precedent that would unduly limit national emergency power that some future president may need.
Alternatively, the court could decide the lawsuits in Trump’s favor. That would invert the entire constitutional order, where Congress appropriates and the president spends. It would undercut the checks and balances provided by the framers and lead to an incredibly powerful presidency.
Either result the court reaches would set a bad precedent.
Congress has tried to avert this problem by passing a resolution rejecting the president’s emergency declaration. But, as President Trump knows, those majorities are not veto-proof. The resolution passed each chamber by nearly 60 percent, but not by two-thirds.
But Congress has only overridden 111 presidential vetoes, which is less than 5 percent.
We believe that for Congress to protect the constitutional order its members should muster the necessary two-thirds majority, unlikely as that may be.
To the court
If Congress does not override the president’s veto, the lawsuits will probably go to the Supreme Court. The court’s decision has strong potential to do harm to the historic constitutional balance.
That balance was upheld by the Supreme Court in a crucial decision more than 50 years ago.
On April 9, 1952, President Harry Truman declared a national emergency. In the midst of the Korean War, he seized the country’s steel mills on the eve of a nationwide strike because steel was necessary to make weapons. The steel companies immediately brought a lawsuit against the seizure in federal court.
Recognizing the importance of the issue, the Supreme Court heard arguments on May 12, and handed down its decision on June 2.
The court, in Youngstown Company v. Sawyer, rejected the president’s claim by a 6-3 majority.
Justice Robert Jackson wrote an opinion proclaiming a general approach to the balance of powers between Congress and the president, rather than a fixed rule.
Jackson declared that “when the President acts pursuant to an express or implied authorization of Congress, his authority is at its maximum.”
The president’s power, Jackson wrote, is in a “zone of twilight” when Congress has not spoken. When “the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb.”
President against Congress
President Trump is acting contrary to Congress’ will by appropriating money Congress has refused to appropriate. He signed a carefully constructed compromise budget bill passed by more than veto-proof two-thirds majorities in both houses. He accepted the US $1.375 billion that the bill gave him for a border wall.
He then broke the deal by declaring a national emergency to allocate an additional $6.7 billion to pay for border wall construction.
In two important cases, the Supreme Court has broadly prohibited Congress from giving any of its appropriations authority or responsibility to the president – even voluntarily.
Congress’ adoption of a joint resolution seeking to invalidate Trump’s emergency declaration – an explicit statement of congressional will – provides conclusive evidence that strengthens the argument that the president is acting contrary to Congress’ will.
Preserving the constitutional balance
If the case gets to the Supreme Court, the president’s lawyers might argue that for Congress to decisively oppose an emergency declaration of the president, lawmakers must override his veto by a two-thirds vote.
Imposing such a veto override requirement, however, would eliminate the court’s role. That’s because a presidential emergency declaration is immediately invalid if Congress overrides a presidential veto.
Two-thirds overrides are historically unlikely. And requiring a two-thirds vote would give a president who declares a national emergency virtually unlimited power to appropriate money to his or her heart’s content – perhaps hundreds of billions of dollars to address, for example, climate change by subsidizing construction of wind farms.
Requiring Congress to override a presidential veto that protects a presidential appropriation would turn the appropriations power and the Constitution’s checks and balances inside out.
Congress has already spoken through passing the spending bill and through its resolution to invalidate the president’s declaration of emergency.
This resolution, although vetoed by the president, has more clearly placed President Trump’s declaration in Justice Jackson’s category where presidential power “is at its lowest ebb.”
It also preserves the historic flexibility by allowing the court’s decision to give deference to the votes of Congress in cases of claimed emergencies.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on Feb. 25, 2019.
John Attanasio, a legal scholar and author of “Politics and Capital: Auctioning the American Dream,” (Oxford University Press, 2018) is a contributing author.
Alan Grieve: The solution, difficult as it is, is to restore the balance by constitutional amendment. All democratic constitutions except the US permit the use of legislative vetoes, although not under that name, to disallow secondary legislation. Many US state constitutions provide for legislative vetoes.
Most post-1945 constitutions make explicit provision for states of emergency. Constitutional antiquity is not, in this case, a virtue.