The wall versus the shutdown: Comparing costs

The wall versus the shutdown: Comparing costs
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The shutdown is over — for now — but the fight’s not done, and Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiUSMCA is nice but no model Anti-impeachment Democrat poised to switch parties Grassley urges White House to help farmers in year-end tax talks MORE and Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTurf war derails bipartisan push on surprise medical bills Senate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA CEO group pushes Trump, Congress on paid family, medical leave MORE still have not convinced supporters of a border wall that its cost — including the cost of the shutdown — cannot justify the paltry benefits the wall will yield.

Their generalizations are not persuasive, and Schumer and Pelosi have little or no credibility with the voters who need to be convinced of the border wall’s futility. They attack the wall as “immoral,” a “waste of money,” inhumane and ineffective, and accuse Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' MORE of throwing tantrums. Schumer pontificates, “The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a thirty-foot wall.” 

To resonate with the voters who matter, a more credible spokesperson should explain some simple concepts:

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Department of Homeland Security statistics put the cost at $21.6 billion. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget predicts the entire wall could end up costing $25 billion — a cost of $200 per U.S. household. Even a Fox News statistician agrees.

Add the legal fees to seize land through eminent domain, often a multi- year court battle — more than 90 such lawsuits are still open in Texas from the 2008 effort to build a fence there — not to mention the compensation the U.S. will have to pay for the seized land.

Then there’s the cost of the government shutdown. S&P Global estimates that the shutdown could cut $1.2 billion off real quarterly GDP for each week the government is closed, that U.S. economy lost $3.6 billion dollars by Jan. 11, and that by the time the shutdown actually ended (at least temporarily) the damage could be $5.7 billion — more than Trump had been demanding for the wall in the first place.

Any return on the investment will be minimal. Border walls do not have a good record of stopping undocumented migration; instead, they increase the flow of immigrants that are smuggled into the U.S. as opposed to immigrants that try to come in on their own. It is the smugglers who are the most common traffickers in drugs and humans and who sexually abuse the undocumented migrants they bring into the U.S.

Drug smugglers have been using tunnels since 1989 when Mexico’s notorious trafficker “El Chapo” pioneered the method. In 2016, U.S. law enforcement officials discovered a half-mile drug tunnel from Tijuana to San Diego equipped with ventilation, rails, and electricity. Also, drones, catapults and wide drainage systems are used to transport drugs to the U.S.

Trump falsely claims that most drugs that cross the southern border enter through areas that would be covered by the wall. Government statistics however show that 90 percent of heroin, 88 percent of cocaine, 87 percent of methamphetamine, and 80 percent of fentanyl in the first 11 months of 2018 were caught being smuggled in at legal crossing points.

There’s another problem: Even if Pelosi and Schumer explained all of this, most wall supporters would not believe them.

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Trump has branded Pelosi as under total control of the radical left and Schumer as a liar. Also, Schumer and Pelosi have low credibility nationally. Schumer’s national approval ratings are 28 percent favorable to 41 percent unfavorable. Yet he won his most recent election bid in New York with 70.64 percent or 5,221,945 votes. He continues to monopolize the spotlight to secure reelection, even though he won’t convince Trump’s wall supporters of the wall’s futility.

The same can be said about Pelosi. Her national approval ratings are 36 percent favorable to 49 percent unfavorable, yet she won her 2016 midterm bid in California with 86.8 percent of the vote or 275,292 votes. Her visibility was good for getting reelected but won’t be effective at converting wall supporters.

This behavior is similar to Trump’s. He panders to his base — around 33 percent of voters — to keep his leverage over Congressional Republicans and boost his reelection chances. Pelosi and Schumer pander to their much smaller bases to keep their seats.

Failure to debunk the wall is one of many opportunities missed by the Democrats.

Many wonder why more Americans aren’t outraged at Trump’s bromance with Vladimir Putin, blatant conflicts of interests, receipt of benefits for foreign policy; cascade of lies, withdrawal from Syria, threat to withdraw from NATO, environmental rollbacks, inhuman treatment of child immigrants, racism, mocking a disabled person, and indictments of multiple Trump associates and Russians connected with Trump’s 2016 election.

There’s a reason why there’s not more outrage. Democrats have not made room in the spotlight for a spokesperson who can provoke it, who can articulate effectively the damage Trump is doing to America, and to whom Trump supporters and those leaning his way will listen. 

Such a person would have the power of the truth on their side — a weapon that escapes Donald Trump.

Neil Baron advised the SEC and congressional staff on rating agency reform. He represented Standard & Poor’s from 1968 to 1989, was Vice Chairman and General Counsel of Fitch Ratings from 1989 to 1998. He also served on the board of Assured Guaranty for a decade.