On Thursday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that President Trump’s multibillion dollar southern border wall could be funded “by imposing a 20 percent tax on all imports into the United States from Mexico,” the New York Times reports.
Less than an hour later, the administration was insisting that the import tax was not a formal proposal.
Trump has long vowed that Mexico will pay for the wall, which even fiscal conservatives like House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) acknowledge could cost as much as $15 billion. But Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has steadfastly maintained his country won’t pay for it, so the Trump administration is now considering indirect ways of reimbursing American taxpayers for funds they’ll front to construct the wall.
“By [imposing a 20 percent tax] we can do $10 billion a year and easily pay for the wall just through that mechanism alone,” Spicer told reporters. “That’s really going to provide the funding.”
Trump seemed to allude to the plan during his speech to Republican members of Congress on Thursday, saying his administration is “working on a tax reform bill that will reduce our trade deficits, increase American exports, and will generate revenue from Mexico that will pay for the wall if we decide to go that route.”
As news of the plan circulated Thursday afternoon, many — including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — expressed concern that a blanket tax on Mexican imports would be passed on to American consumers, which would mean they’d end up paying for the wall after all:
Simply put, any policy proposal which drives up costs of Corona, tequila, or margaritas is a big-time bad idea. Mucho Sad. (2)
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 26, 2017
And also because the import tax could drive up inflation:
— aasif mandvi (@aasif) January 26, 2017
Not long after Spicer made his remarks to reporters, he seemed to walk them back a bit:
BREAKING: Spicer tells me 20% tax on Mexican imports is NOT a policy proposal, but example of options how to pay for wall.
— Peter Alexander (@PeterAlexander) January 26, 2017
Similarly, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said the administration was still considering “a buffet of options,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
But with Trump vowing to start construction as soon as possible, it’s clear that Americans will at least initially be on the hook for the cost of a wall Trump steadfastly maintained would be paid for by Mexico. And if the border tax plan under consideration comes to fruition, Americans might end up paying indirectly for a vanity project that U.S. Customs and Border Protection doesn’t believe is necessarily.