Placing the border wall budget fight in perspective

While $5 billion amounts to a lot of money, Jay Cost of National Review Online explains why the fight over that level of funding for a southern border wall seems odd in the context of a much larger federal budget.

This year, the United States government will have spent more than $4 trillion. Right now, the government is shut down for a dispute over funding for the border wall proposed by Trump, amounting to $5 billion, or 0.125 percent of total federal expenditures. The shutdown has been going on for two weeks, and there is as yet no indication of any resolution.

Normally, government shutdowns are over major disputes on spending. Think of the 1995–96 shutdown, as Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich squabbled over the extent to which constraints on Medicare spending were necessary to get the deficit under control. The shutdown in 2013 was due in part to historically unprecedented levels of deficit spending during peacetime, and substantive disagreements about what to do about it. But not in 2018. Right now, nobody in Washington, D.C., seems to care about the deficit. This is all about $5 billion to build a wall. Yet $5 billion is a pittance in terms of overall federal spending. Politicians in recent years have knowingly signed off on much more for purely political purposes.

This is beyond bizarre — or at least it would be in any other time except the Age of Trump.

What to make of all this?

Far be it from me to predict what will come from any of this. Still, I think this fight is the triumph of symbolism over substance in the squalid politics of our age, and it is a prelude to the brutal fight that awaits us as we near the 2020 presidential election.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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