The House has passed a $788 billion spending bill with a $1.6 billion down payment for President Donald Trump’s controversial wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and a major budget increase for the Pentagon, according to Associated Press.
The nearly $790 billion package, which passed 235 to 192, would fund several security-related government expenses. Five Republicans voted against the measure and five Democrats voted for it. However, there will be challenging hurdles ahead as the measure will face more powerful Democratic opposition in the Senate.
Construction of prototypes for President Donald Trump’s long-promised border wall has been delayed until winter once bidders who were passed over filed protests, according to an update obtained by CNN.
Despite Trump’s pledge to make Mexico pay for the wall, the bill initially turns to taxpayer money to construct a barrier along the southwest border. Congress has yet to appropriate any money for Trump’s signature campaign pledge, so the prototypes have been the only step the administration has been able to take in executing Trump’s vision.
Money for the wall is part of a broader $788 billion spending bill funding defense and veterans programs. The 326-page measure would make good on longtime GOP promises, including giving veterans programs a 5 percent increase and fund a 2.4 percent military pay raise.
To avert a government shutdown, lawmakers have until the end of September to pass all necessary spending bills, according to the New York Times.
In any funding agreement, Senate Democrats are demanding equal increases to domestic and military spending.
House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy of California, said Trump would regret spending money on building the wall.
“Every single dime the President requested to start building a wall on our southern border he’s going to get… Most importantly, we’re sending more to the VA to fix veterans’ health care and reform outdated VA systems.”
Representative Ruben Gallego (D – AZ), who served in the Marine Corps, said a border wall, which Trump has vowed Mexico will ultimately fund — is pretty much a deal-breaker for Democrats, according to the New York Times.
“Not only is his border wall expensive and unnecessary, members of this body who care deeply about our national defense shouldn’t be forced to decide to vote for this ridiculous proposal.”
Though the House voted on a security funding package that included $1.6 billion to build new border wall next fiscal year, Democrats in the Senate have signaled they will oppose any effort.
Representative David Price (D – NC), said along the border, there are 700 miles of fencing that had already been constructed.
“Nobody would know it from the President’s hysterical rhetoric, but there are already 700 miles of fence down there on the border — vehicular fencing, pedestrian fencing… I know about it because most of that fencing was built when I was chairman of the homeland security appropriations subcommittee.”
Construction On U.S.-Mexico Border Wall Prototypes Are Delayed
The numerous protests filed have created months worth of delays in the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall designs. Construction is currently several months behind the date the administration had hoped to break ground. The plan had originally been to begin building the wall in June of 2017. However, in recent weeks, the Department of Homeland Security has insisted it was still on track to begin work on prototypes this summer.
The unexpected delay means the earliest that prototype construction could begin would be in November and to be completed by early December.
Technically, this would be the ideal situation if no further protests are filed and if the original protests are dismissed. According to the notes from the updates, protests are a common part of government contracting.
Carlos Diaz, CBP spokesman, said in a statement to CNN, that the contract process “could resume” sooner if the protest is resolved, but acknowledged the agency is updating its timeline for the contract.
“CBP is aware that (the Government Accountability Office) is currently reviewing bid protests by a vendor that was not selected for further consideration under two solicitations for the design and construction of wall prototypes… Such protests are common in federal contracting processes and no contracts may be awarded until the protests are resolved. … CBP expects GAO’s decision on these protests in early October 2017, which would delay construction to late October or early November.”
The Customs and Border Protection legislative affairs office sent out a memo that was obtained by CNN, which said that the two companies that were not selected to be finalists — who then were asked to submit more detailed proposals — filed a total of four protests of the process.
While two of the protests, from WNIS, were dismissed, two from Penna Group are still under review and will not be decided until October.
The requests for proposals (including one for a 30-foot concrete barrier) were posted this spring, with the field being narrowed down and finalists asked for more detailed pitches.
In an effort to have border agents to interact with the wall in a real-world border environment, the prototypes are set to be constructed along the border in San Diego.
The funding for the process was granted from the $20 million that Congress authorized DHS to take from other places in the budget earlier this year.
While DHS has been unable to break ground on any new wall construction or the prototypes, the Army Corps of Engineers has been conducting testing in the areas that DHS has requested money to build in the fiscal year of 2018.
This also includes 74 miles of border wall and levee wall that is mainly located in the Rio Grande Valley.
If money were appropriated, procedures like environmental impact assessments would still need to be followed, before construction on the wall could begin.
The Department of Homeland Security has not said whether the prototypes will be required before any wall construction begins. However, the process is said to be a first step in determining what shape future border wall plans will take.
[Featured Image by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images]