Trump tariffs would make a 'steel slat' border wall much more expensive for taxpayers

  • A White House effort to win support for a border wall by describing the project as "border security" with "steel slats" only serves as a reminder that the president's steep tariffs on the metal would make any such project much more expensive.
  • So far this year, the price of milled steel products is up roughly 25 percent, which matches the level of import duties Trump applied in March to all steel products made outside the U.S.
  • Despite widespread congressional opposition to Trump's demands for billions of dollars for a border wall, the president Friday seemed determined to force a government shutdown over the funding issue.
Construction workers are seen next to heavy machinery while working on a new border wall in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, as seen from the Mexican side of the border in San Jeronimo, on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico April 23, 2018.
Jose Luis Gonzalez | Reuters
Construction workers are seen next to heavy machinery while working on a new border wall in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, as seen from the Mexican side of the border in San Jeronimo, on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico April 23, 2018.

A White House effort to win support for a border wall describing the project as "border security" with "steel slats" only serves as a reminder that the president's steep tariffs on the metal would make any such project much more expensive.

So far this year, the price of milled steel products is up roughly 25 percent, which matches the level of import duties Trump applied in March to all steel products made outside the U.S. That added cost to imports helped domestic makers of steel and milled products raise their prices as well.

Despite congressional Democrats' opposition to Trump's demands of $5 billion for a border wall, the president Friday seemed determined to force a government shutdown. The move is aimed at showing his core supporters that he is steadfast in his commitment to his signature campaign promise to build a physical barrier between the U.S. and Mexico.

In a fumbled effort at compromise with Capitol Hill, the White House on Thursday tried to appease wall critics in Congress by describing the project differently.

Trump "does not want to go further without border security, which includes steel slats or a wall," White House spokeswoman Sanders told reporters.

It remains to be seen what materials would be used for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, let alone how much it would cost. Various estimates have placed the final cost of walling off the entire 2,000-mile boundary as high as $70 billion, according to a report by the Brookings Institution. It is unclear what the $5 billion the president is demanding would ultimately cover.

Cost estimates vary widely in part because the White House has yet to come up with final specifications. Even a concrete wall would get hit by tariffs, though, as steel would be used in that construction as well.

In August, the Government Accountability Office, a government watchdog agency, found that the Department of Homeland Security had not completed an analysis required to efficiently build the proposed barrier along the Mexico border — which could result in wasted taxpayer money.

"DHS plans to spend billions of dollars developing and deploying new barriers along the southwest border," the study said. "However, by proceeding without key information on cost, acquisition baselines, and the contributions of previous barrier and technology deployments, DHS faces an increased risk that the Border Wall System Program will cost more than projected, take longer than planned, or not fully perform as expected."

GAO did not estimate how much money could be wasted.

Among the designs under consideration are several variations of a barrier with narrowly spaced, vertical steel slats to block passage of people or vehicles.

That design apparently satisfies Trump's desire for "transparency" and the need for "openings because you have to see what's on the other side of the wall," according to remarks he made to reporters in July 2017.

"I'll give you an example," he said. "As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don't see them — they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It's over. As crazy as that sounds, you need transparency through that wall."

Trump has offered various schemes for funding the wall over the past few weeks even as he continues to demand money from the government. He has insisted, for example, that, whatever the cost, U.S. taxpayers will be shielded from the expense because Mexico will pay for its construction.

In a Twitter post early on Thursday, Trump said that unspecified savings for the U.S. resulting from the recently renegotiated trade deal between the United States, Mexico and Canada would pay for the wall.

While some U.S. businesses could benefit from a renegotiated North American trade deal, there is little in the way of savings expected for the U.S. government. And any additional tariffs collected on imported Mexican products would be paid for by American consumers, not the Mexican government.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have ridiculed Trump's assertion.

"What money? What money?" House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi asked reporters Thursday. "'That money will be used to pay for the wall?' The money that businesses make? What money is he talking about that's going to go pay for the wall? It just doesn't measure up."