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Special Report

All-Star Panel: Debate over sequestration effect on border security

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," March 27, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHAWN MORAN, NATIONAL BORDER PATROL UNION: They say it's about the mission, but if it was, we'd be out there securing the border. They're worried about securing the bottom line. That's the final answer. They don't care about securing the border anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR: Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Union upset with how sequester spending cuts will affect border security. And we're back now with the panel.

So, faced with a $250 million automatic spending cut as part of the sequester, the Department of Homeland Security is going to cut overtime and drive time for border patrol agents. Drive time means the amount of time it takes to get from headquarters to the border and back. In some of these places it can be 90 minutes each way. And the result we reported earlier tonight is that there might be what in effect is a 20 percent reduction in manpower on the border and long periods of time when the border isn't being guarded at all at various points along the southern border. How serious is this, Chuck?

CHARLES LANE, EDITORIAL WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I have to say your union president there is saying exactly what I would expect the president of a union whose members are threatened by a federal spending cut to say.

But I'd like to put it in a little perspective. The border patrol has grown enormously in the last decade. In the last five years according to statistics, I was just reading, it has doubled in size in the last five years at a time when we also know that illegal immigration is declining for reasons that have to do with the economy and demography and Mexico as well as the bad economy here. So I don't deny that there is going to be some service cutback. I'm a little skeptical of the most alarmist scenario.

WALLACE: Are you as skeptical of the impact of a $250 million cut in border patrol?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: No, but I'm skeptical about the motive. As if there isn't anywhere else in the budget of this huge department that is constructing a headquarters for years and years now where I'm sure a lot of money ends up in the concrete.

You know, this is a stunt that is not going to work. It's obvious that the administration is in every department trying to find the one neuralgic area that will affect the public in the worst way, and the symbol of that is the White House tours. But that just isn't working because that became so obvious that everybody understands. Can you imagine how much waste is in that huge department that is remaining untouched?

And don't tell me that the money is un-shiftable. The Republicans have offered to give the administration the power to move the money around.  Obama has said he not only won't do it but he would veto a bill that allowed him to shift the money around. This is clearly a stunt to get people to hurt at the receiving end of services like the border patrol, like White House tours, and to blame it on the Republicans. It's not going to work.

WALLACE: This is called in Washington, there is even a name for this kind of tactic, firemen first. From the idea that you fire the most visible people first to show how horrible and draconian the budget cuts are. I'm not saying that is what the administration is doing. But that is certainly what --

(CROSSTALK)

KRAUTHAMMER: I am saying that.

WALLACE: I understand you're saying that.

FRED BARNES, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Of course that is what you're doing. No question. It's also the Washington Monument syndrome, in other words, the most visible thing you close it. 

(CROSSTALK)

BARNES: It's already closed anyway now for repairs.

WALLACE: Let me just pick up on this, though Fred. Doesn't this come at just the worst time? It's interesting because let's take your skeptical, I won't say cynical, skeptical view and say the administration is doing it to try to say, oh boy these sequester cuts are just terrible. It also comes at the same time the administration is pushing immigration reform. All of the immigration plans demand border security and the certification of the security. So isn't this going to hurt the administration as it tries to get comprehensive immigration reform through.

BARNES: I think it will hurt the administration. It's very short- sighted. The one person who can kill immigration reform in 2013 is President Obama. And he is off to a very good start. I mean, for instance he is championing legislation that will never pass. That will, you know, you -- any illegal immigrant in the United States will be instantly eligible to go down the path to citizenship. That is not going to pass. And now this.

And he is making it very, very hard for a compromise to be reached one by these eight senators, four Republicans and four Democrats, which is a very good compromise and will pass something like that as long as the president doesn't continue stunts like this.

WALLACE: Chuck, you are shaking your head.

LANE: I just want to repeat, this stunt only backfires, or whatever it is, if people fall for it. And I'm saying don't fall for it. There is no real reason that a moderate cutback in what the border patrol is doing --

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: You don't know that that is true. You don't know that if the border is unguarded because you're losing drive time, you're losing overtime. I understand the union has an interest to play. But it is conceivable that it could mean that there are fewer guards along the border.

LANE: I do know the following, Chris, which is that there is ample documentation for the fact that fewer Mexicans are trying to get into the United States today, many fewer. Many fewer --

WALLACE: Let me just interrupt for a second to put this up on the screen. Because we have a graphic that shows this, this is true. You can argue the reason, but back in FY-2000 -- fiscal 2000 -- 1.676 million people apprehended on all the borders of the United States. Last year, 364,000. So it is dramatically down. One can argue it is because the border security has been beefed up, one can argue it's because we have been suffering a terrible recession.

LANE: And the main reason is that the immigration age cohort of the Mexican population has dropped dramatically because the birthrate has gone down. And furthermore, the Mexican economy is dramatically improved over what it was. So, I'm just calling on everyone to calm down.

BARNES: Chuck, a 20 percent cut is not a mild --

LANE: If that is what it really is.

KRAUTHAMMER: Even if all of that is true, I think hanging up a sign all across the border saying that during happy hour on Wednesdays and Thursdays there will be nobody at the border might actually contribute a somewhat of an uptick in infiltration.

LANE: People organizing these trips across the border already know when it's defended and not defended.

KRAUTHAMMER: Yeah, but now we are doubling, we're increasing that time. And that is going to make a difference.

But the problem is, if it's going to -- it's not as if it will reduce the numbers. The issue is why was this even required in the first place?  And it's purely a matter of partisanship. You call me skeptical. That is inadequate. I'm cynical. I'm so cynical I make Diogenes look credulous. With this administration, I don't buy anything they are telling me. When they reopen the White House so little Iowa tots can go on their visits I will begin believing in them again.

WALLACE: Well, we are all looking forward to that. Because I want you to be credulous. Diogenes? My gosh, that was very impressive.

That is it for the panel. But stay tuned to see another example of why cats and dogs just plain don't like each other.

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