WASHINGTON (CNN) — Conservatives in the House are already sending a message to President Donald Trump: If you want us to give you your wall, tell us how you will pay for it.
Members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and Republican Study Committee said Tuesday any conversation about funding a border wall or border security projects — along with initiatives like infrastructure spending, Obamacare and military spending — must include spending cuts elsewhere.
“If all of a sudden we’re not worried about pay-fors for our spending, then we have been hypocrites for six years,” said Rep. Raul Labrador, a Republican from Idaho. “So we need to make sure that whether it’s a fence, whether it’s the military, whether its’ any other issue that we’re discussing here in Congress … we need to have pay-fors for those things, and I’m not going to vote for anything that just increases spending without looking at a way to pay for that in the future.”
Lawmakers are expected to consider funding for Trump’s promised border wall and his executive orders on border security and immigration enforcement this spring. Government funding runs out in April and will need to be renewed, but the border wall ask could come in the form of a supplemental spending bill, perhaps packaged with military funds.
Democrats are unlikely to give Republicans much support in paying for Trump’s hard-line immigration policies without other concessions. Disagreements within the Republican Party could stymie efforts to push through some sort of supplemental funding, which will also need 60 votes in the Senate to progress.
The conservative Freedom Caucus has already given its party leadership trouble before, moving for the ouster of former House Speaker John Boehner and pushing the hard-line positions on government spending that led to a stalemate and government shutdown in 2013.
Rep. Dave Brat said Tuesday he would not begin to consider some of the asks, like military spending, border spending and infrastructure, without first seeing something “put in stone.”
“When it comes to that, the most important part for me … is seeing that the tax plan, a pro-growth tax plan is put in stone and in writing before we can go forward with any of the spending increases,” the Virginia Republican told reporters. “Those spending pieces, we’ll debate those coming up, the military, the wall the infrastructure plan, but you’ve got to see tax reform in place first, otherwise we can’t afford it.”
The Trump administration has not been clear on how it intends to pay for the wall, saying a number of options are under consideration. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican leadership is hoping to pass a border adjustment tax effort that could help offset the costs. Trump has maintained Mexico will reimburse the US for the cost of the wall, though he has never explained how he will make that happen with no interest in doing so by Mexico.
South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford said paying for the wall “is going to be awfully important in the equation” of how to build it, noting that he and his peers on the conservative groups consider the national debt as part of the security conversation.
“A border wall is about American security and American sovereignty,” Sanford said. “But I think a lot of us I think the group as a whole, have a broader definition about what security is about. That financial security, security of our currency, our way of life, is as much a part of that wall as the physical barrier itself.”
“Our national debt is one of the largest national security issues that we have,” echoed Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-South Carolina. “Security of the nation, as Mark said, is much broader than just a border wall, it’s much broader than an executive order on immigration and refugees, at the end of the day, our national debt has to factor into this.”
In a preview of potential fight to come, the group signaled they would take on House leadership if they didn’t listen — with Duncan saying the group “is not just focusing on what’s right in front of us” and is looking ahead to spending bills much longer into the year, including September.
“Our leadership needs to understand that in order to work with us on these issues, that we need to be consistent in the message that we give to the American people,” Labrador said.
“I think it’s incumbent upon conservative members of Congress to put forward a conservative budget,” said North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus.