Donald Trump: Fiscal Snapshot

December 1, 2015
Demian Brady
Donald Trump

In the four Republican presidential candidate debates so far, Donald Trump has made ten policy proposals that could have an impact on spending. However, a few policy proposals were repeated in several of the debate. For example, in two different debates he repeated calls to repeal “Obamacare”, and of course, in each appearance Trump vowed to build a wall along the entire southern border.

On net, the proposals he has offered with quantifiable costs would reduce spending by a net of $88.852 billion. However, as noted below, some of the items are partial costs, and there are also proposals whose costs are currently unknown but could be significant. In addition, Trump hasn’t fully explained what health care policies would be instituted as part of his plan to repeal the so-called Affordable Care Act.

Below is a snapshot of Trump's non-duplicate proposals – in his own word – by issue area with information about potential costs.

Economy, Transportation, & Infrastructure:

Infrastructure: “ … [W]e have an infrastructure that’s falling apart. Our roads, our bridges, our schools, our airports, and we have to start investing money in our country."

Cost: Indeterminate

Notes: On the campaign trail, Trump has said, "We must rebuild our infrastructure … ." However it is unclear what level of federal spending on infrastructure he would support.


Health Care:

Repeal Obamacare: “We have to end Obamacare … and I will do that."

Cost per Year: -$95.4 billion (-$477 billion over five years)

Notes: CBO has not completed an analysis of the full spending related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. A June 2015 CBO analysis of repealing the law showed that direct spending would be reduced by $477 billion over five years. There are potentially additional unreported discretionary savings.


Purchase Health Insurance across State Lines: “What I’d like to see is a private system without the artificial lines around every state.”

Cost per Year: $38 million ($191 million over five years)

Notes: Related legislation was introduced in Congress that would allow for the purchase of health insurance across state lines. Currently, a 1945 law permits the states to regulate health insurance plans within their borders; however there is an exemption for certain large employers.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) conducted a cost estimate for H.R. 2355 (109th Congress), the Health Care Choice Act of 2005. The bill would provide for cooperative governing of individual insurance coverage offered in interstate commerce. At the time, CBO estimated that the bill would increase spending by $160 million over five years ($191 million, adjusted for inflation). It is unclear whether this cost estimate would be higher or lower today given that it was originally calculated prior to the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). The proposal was reintroduced in the 114th Congress in the form of H.R. 543.


Homeland Security & Law Enforcement:

Border Security: “First of all, I want to build a wall, a wall that works."

Cost: $2.52 billion per year ($12.6 billion over five years)

Notes: According to reports, 650 miles of fencing have been constructed along the southern border, 350 miles of which is pedestrian fencing. In 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that vehicular fencing along the southwest border would cost about $1 million per mile on average while pedestrian fencing would cost about $3.9 million. The report also notes, "However, once contracts were awarded, the average per mile costs had increased to $6.5 million per mile for pedestrian fencing and $1.8 million per mile for vehicle fencing … the per mile costs increased over time due to various factors, such as property acquisition costs incurred for these miles that were not a factor for many of the previous miles and costs for labor and materials increased."

Based on that pedestrian-related figure, fencing across the remaining 1,283 miles of border, could cost upwards of $8.3 billion.

The Secure Fence Act of 2006 mandated the completion of 700 miles of double-layer fencing but to date just 36.3 miles meet this requirement. Building an additional 663.7 miles of layered fencing could add another $4.3 billion to the total cost.

It is unknown exactly how long it would take to complete fencing across the entire border and to what degree difficult terrain or negotiations with private landowners could increase costs. Between 2008 and 2010, much of 225 miles of a pedestrian fencing project was completed, a rate of less than 75 miles per year. However, until more information becomes available from the candidate, NTUF assumes Trump will prioritize and expedite the construction in order to complete the project within five years.

Trump proposes to pressure the Mexican government into paying for the border wall by impounding remittances, increasing fees on work visas and at U.S./Mexican ports of entry, and potentially imposing tariffs or cutting foreign aid until the wall’s costs are covered. It is unknown exactly what combination of these policies Trump would employ to offset this new spending.


Incarcerate and Deport Illegal Aliens: "Second of all, we have a lot of really bad dudes in this country from outside ... They go, if I get elected, first day they’re gone."

Cost per Year: $5.049 billion ($25.245 billion over five years)

Notes: This is a partial cost estimate. NTUF analyzed Trump's full immigration reform platform, included a tripling of the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents ($10.834 billion over five years), and support for detaining and deporting illegal aliens. The latter two proposals match with legislation offered in Congress. H.R. 2278 (114th Congress) would provide grants to the states for incarceration of illegal aliens, and would allow states to seek reimbursement from the federal government for transportation, at a combined cost of $14.412 billion over five years. Subsequently, Trump declared he would seek to deport all illegal aliens within two years. It is unclear what additional funding would be necessary to achieve that timetable.


Tax Credit Payments to Illegal Immigrants: “[Tripling the number of ICE officers] will be funded by accepting the recommendation of the Inspector General for Tax Administration and eliminating tax credit payments to illegal immigrants.”

Cost: -$1.186 billion per year (-$5.929 billion over five years) Savings

Notes: The 2011 report cited by Trump found that $4.2 billion in refundable credits were paid to individuals who were not authorized to work in the United States. These individuals were not eligible for Social Security numbers and so each were assigned an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) which enabled them to be eligible for the Child Tax Credit, a “refundable” credit that can be claimed above and beyond a filer’s income tax liability.

An early version of H.R. 3630 in the 112th Congress would have required that filers have a Social Security number in order to be eligible for the Child Tax Credit. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) determined this would reduce outlays by $5.929 billion over five years.


E-Verify: “Nationwide e-verify.”

Cost: $127 million per year ($635 million over five years)

Notes: In 2013, CBO reported that a mandatory E-Verify system would cost $635 million over five years.


Immigration Reform: “End birthright citizenship.”

Notes: It is likely that this policy, along with the increased border security proposals listed above, would reduce welfare-related expenditures, but an estimate is indeterminate.


National Defense & Foreign Affairs:

Military: " ... [W]e make our country ... great again. We rebuild our military ... ."

Cost per Year: Indeterminate

Notes: It is unclear from his statement to what extent Mr. Trump would rebuild or expand the military.



Donald Trump has laid out a detailed plan regarding health care for veterans and reforms at the Veterans Administration, available here, however his campaign has not indicated how much it might cost.

Demian Brady

Director of Research

Demian Brady is the Director of Research for the National Taxpayers Union Foundation. His responsibilities include producing commentaries and studies on fiscal issues, as well as managing NTUF's BillTally program (which tracks the impact of legislation on the size of the federal budget), State of the Union analysis, and more. Demian's research has been cited in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Times. In addition, he has written on a number of budget-related issues for both NTU and NTUF. Mr. Brady resided and worked in Columbus, Ohio before moving to Washington, DC in 1998. He earned an M.A. in Political Science from American University. He received a B.A. in Russian Area Studies from Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. 

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