House GOP leaders are taking a wait-and-see approach as their conference has begun splitting into factions over how to fund the federal government and whether to bring immigration into the mix.
That leaves appropriators, currently negotiating a 12-bill omnibus package for fiscal 2015, with some room to build momentum and strike a deal on the legislation. But it also leaves the door open for outside political maneuvers that could imperil their $1 trillion effort.
Republican leaders told conference members during a closed-door meeting on Nov. 13 morning that no decisions have been made about whether they would support an omnibus, which would provide fresh, line-by-line guidance to agencies, or look to advance a more basic continuing resolution next month.
Federal agencies require fresh funding on Dec. 11, when the current stopgap (PL 113-164) expires.
By not giving House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., their full-throated public endorsement, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and GOP leaders are buying themselves some flexibility in the days and weeks ahead.
If Rogers and his Senate counterpart, Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., make significant headway on the spending package, leadership could decide to endorse appropriators’ work and forge ahead after taking the temperature of the conference. Or, if work falters, the caucus splits and if President Barack Obama announces executive actions on immigration that the party would like to address in the spending bill, leaders could choose to pursue a stopgap instead.
Such an approach could help shield leaders — who are still helping the freshman class get situated — from political embarrassment should they ultimately choose to change course.
“These are big decisions, and one of the things that I’ve learned about Speaker Boehner is that he likes to be thorough, he likes to listen and he likes to be well-informed before he makes big decisions, and you see that time and time again, and I think you’re going to see that here,” said Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, a GOP appropriator.
Either way, the issue might be dragged out for weeks, particularly if the White House delays its announcement of a set of executive actions that is expected to shield millions of illegal immigrants from the threat of deportation.
Rogers said in an interview on Nov. 12 that House leaders were behind his push to pass an omnibus by the end of the year and that he secured the commitment of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to lobby reluctant conservatives to support the omnibus.
In the meantime, leadership’s public silence puts the burden on appropriators to work quickly, build momentum and at least make it appear that omnibus negotiations aren’t that difficult to get their colleagues on board.
“‘Give us a chance.’ That’s what we tell them, and we’ll see if we can produce an omnibus,” said senior GOP appropriator Mike Simpson of Idaho, about discussing the issue with non-committee members.
It is in Rogers’ interest in particular to show his House GOP colleagues that he is netting tangible wins for Republicans, many of whom have said they would prefer to pass another stopgap through the new Congress to give the party more leverage against the president.
“I’m trying to convince them to see that this is the best way to go,” said Rogers, referring to his GOP colleagues.
Senior appropriators and their staffs are continuing to forge ahead on negotiations.
Rogers is pitching his colleagues on two main points: that there are legislative victories they can secure in the omnibus through policy riders that the party would not be able to achieve otherwise, and that it is in the party’s interest to clear the legislative decks in the lame duck so the GOP can get off to a good start in the 114th Congress.
“I’m hopeful that they will understand that this is in their best interest to do it this way. Because if they don’t, they are going to throw away a lot of good things we’re working on which we have a chance to include in an omnibus that I think they would cherish. To throw that away would be not wise,” Rogers said.
Regardless of how much progress they make on the negotiating front, the immigration issue could prove to be an insurmountable one for appropriators as they look to wrap up their fiscal 2015 work. They undoubtedly have an uphill fight ahead of them.
A proposal from Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., to include in any wrap-up spending package a rider blocking federal spending on the implementation of the immigration executive actions appears to be gaining momentum among Republicans. Salmon has collected more than 50 signatories in the House, and the effort also has supporters on the Senate side.
Salmon said on Nov. 14 that GOP leaders have reached out to him about attaching the immigration language to a year-end spending bill.
“Here’s the time to get creative. And I think that’s what the Speaker said when he said we’re looking at all options right now,” Salmon said.
Boehner told reporters on Nov. 13 that Republicans would fight the president “tooth and nail” on the executive actions and that “all the options are on the table.” He would not rule out a government shutdown as an option.
Appropriators, meanwhile, are warning that tying such an immigration rider to a government funding bill would kill the omnibus and stoke a government shutdown. They instead are pushing for Republicans to challenge the executive actions using other legislative and legal tools.
“Shutting down the government didn’t defund Obamacare, to me it’s unlikely to stop an executive order on immigration. We’ve got to find another, better means and one that’s less damaging to our economy,” said appropriator Tom Cole, R-Okla.
“Let’s get our work done and then see what other legal and legislative tools we have available to challenge the president,” he added.
Emily Ethridge and Shawn Zeller contributed to this report.