- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 24, 2022

If Uncle Sam won’t build the border wall, it’s time to find someone who can, said Sen. Joni Ernst, who said she’s fed up with tons of steel sitting unused.

The Iowa Republican announced legislation Tuesday that would direct the federal government to transfer any of its stockpile of wall materials to border states who request it, free of charge.

She said the feds are paying millions of dollars to maintain the stockpiles, which have been dormant since President Biden ordered a halt to wall construction on his first day in office. Giving the material to states would put it to good use and save money, she said.

Her idea would likely have a couple of takers in Texas and Arizona, both of which have plans to allocate hundreds of millions of dollars of their own money for wall construction.

“Taxpayers have already paid $350 million for the concrete, steel and fencing that is now sitting idle. Why not let states who want to build the wall access these unused materials?” Ms. Ernst said.

In addition to the sunk costs of the materials themselves, the government is spending even more money to watch over what’s already been bought.

“That’s right folks, taxpayers are being billed to protect piles of rusting materials,” Ms. Ernst told reporters.

A study last year by Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, one of Ms. Ernst’s Republican colleagues, said the feds were paying $3 million a day to guard seven sites where construction materials were sitting unused.

Ms. Ernst said the rusting materials are so embarrassing they earned Mr. Biden her monthly “Squeal Award” — which goes to the worst federal spending decision.

Her bill would require states who ask for the materials to certify they are using them to build border barriers.

Texas, which has already begun construction of the wall on state lands, did gain access to 1,700 surplus wall panels from the federal government through an existing process at the General Services Administration. The panels were hauled from San Diego to Eagle Pass, Texas, at a cost of $2 million, the Texas Tribune reported.

The panels are enough to cover 1.3 miles of the border.

The wall was the most visible of President Trump’s 2016 campaign promises, and perhaps one of his most successful projects in office.

Over vehement opposition from Congress, which limited his budget, he tapped billions of dollars in Pentagon funding, siphoning it toward wall construction.

He left office with more than 450 miles protected by a barrier. He had plans to erect nearly 300 more miles, but those were cut short by his loss to Mr. Biden in the 2020 election.

Mr. Biden took office having vowed not to build “another foot” of the wall on his watch. That vision has eroded under the realities of the border situation. His administration has since acknowledged it needs to plug what it called “gaps” in construction that the construction halt left.

The administration says filling those gaps doesn’t qualify as new wall construction, and instead should be considered remediation of Mr. Trump’s project.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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