Leaders think they can keep the government open.
The House will vote this week on a symbolic immigration bill and then take up a two-part government funding bill next week — a package Republican leaders believe will prevent a government shutdown.
Speaker John Boehner announced the plan in a closed party meeting Tuesday morning.
While some House conservatives will vote against the plan, GOP leadership aides and senior lawmakers believe they can get enough votes to clear the package, an early victory for Republicans who didn’t want to end the year wrapped in a legislative crisis.
Instead, Boehner hopes to clear a funding deal now and let Republicans channel their anger at President Barack Obama on immigration next year when they take control of the Senate from Democrats.
“I think they understand that it’s going to be difficult to take meaningful action as long as we’ve got Democrats in control of the Senate,” Boehner (R-Ohio) said of his GOP colleagues, most of whom seemed comfortable with the gambit.
The plan was first unveiled Monday night at Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s weekly meeting. It will give lawmakers a vote on a bill, written by conservative Florida Rep. Ted Yoho, that essentially says Obama doesn’t have authority to freeze deportations. And then the House will vote on a spending bill that keeps most of the government funded through September 2015 but sets March as a deadline to renew funding for the Department of Homeland Security. The funding portion was originally envisioned by conservative Georgia Rep. Tom Price.
The vote on Yoho’s bill is mostly symbolic, as the Senate will likely ignore the plan. The true question is whether a mere vote on his legislation will give conservatives the cover they need to pass government funding. Time is short: The government shuts down Dec. 11, and Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) want to be out of town after next week.
“The simplest way this will work is it will bring a stop to the action that the president wants,” Yoho told reporters. “He talks about having a pen and a phone; this will take the ink out of the pen. We need to stop the process. The American people spoke, and they want responsible immigration reform, and I don’t know anyone in Congress who doesn’t want that. This will stop what he’s doing right now so the new Congress can work on this.”
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told a House committee Tuesday morning he wasn’t in favor of Congress funding his agency on a short-term basis. The White House has not commented on the plan, which POLITICO first reported Monday night.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is opposed to the GOP plan, but her top deputy — Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) — is not. It will be a test for Pelosi to see how many Democratic votes she can line up, especially if the White House or Senate Democrats don’t oppose it.
“We think it’s a dumb idea,” Hoyer said. “But if that’s what they’re going to put forward, I think we may well support that. But it makes no sense.”
The Republican theory is that they’ll pick up the fight again in the spring, after Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) takes over as majority leader. McConnell, speaking at a Wall Street Journal event, said his GOP colleagues will “support what the House Republicans can send to us.”
“It passes the omnibus, which we need to get Republican spin on spending, plus it avoids a shutdown,” said House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), a close ally of McConnell, laying out the strategy. “And on the Homeland Security, when we do a [continuing resolution], it preserves that fight until we have more troops in the Senate.”
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a vocal opponent of Obama’s immigration order, admitted that Republicans don’t want a government shutdown, and he said he would not oppose the leadership’s plan.
“If they’re determined to go forward and honor the work of the Appropriations Committee, fine, carry that out until the end of September,” King said. “I think it would be better not to, but I’m not going to oppose that. … We have to fight, we have to fight now or we’re going have to fight later. This is the best ground to fight on. … There are not enough members willing to put up this fight … so let’s pick this ground to fight on.”
Georgia Republican Phil Gingrey said he was leaning toward supporting the GOP leadership plan, but added that Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho) had raised some questions about the viability of Yoho’s bill.
“[Labrador] said the Yoho bill does not really address the problem and it needs to be reworded, maybe redone,” Gingrey said.
Labrador wouldn’t answer repeated questions from reporters following the Republican Conference meeting.