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House GOP Races Against Clock to Unveil Spending Bill Gambit

Boehner faces another shutdown scenario. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Boehner faces another shutdown scenario. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The internal struggle in the GOP over whether to flirt with another government shutdown could come down to the Tuesday morning House Republican Conference meeting.  

Only 10 days before the current continuing resolution expires, House Republican leaders are trying to strike a balance between the conservatives determined to stop President Barack Obama’s immigration order and other lawmakers just as determined to avoid another politically damaging shutdown.  

GOP aides said leadership will solicit feedback on the subject at the conference’s regularly scheduled closed-door meeting Tuesday. The gathering will be pivotal in determining how to proceed, but regardless of the strategy they land on, timing will play an important role.  

Should Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and his top lieutenants not lay out a concrete proposal Tuesday — or if he fails to get members to coalesce around a strategy — Republicans could be inching toward being jammed by Democrats with a full, “clean” omnibus.  

Sources say Republican leaders could float a proposal to fund the government through the remainder of the fiscal year, but sunset spending for immigration-related activities by a date in the near future.  

Ultimately, that could mean short-term funding for the whole Department of Homeland Security. That plan is being called a “cromnibus,” a combination of a continuing resolution, or a CR, and an omnibus, which refers to a legislative package that includes all or most parts of the 12 annual appropriations bills.  

It would buy the GOP more time to figure out a long-term strategy to hold Obama’s feet to the fire, take the fight outside the confines of must-pass legislation and avoid a lapse in spending when current funding expires on Dec. 11. Republican leaders could also suggest a strategy that puts separate legislation on the floor this week or next to address Obama’s recent announcement to defer deportations for millions of undocumented immigrants, which would ostensibly allow members to let off steam about the executive orders and still support an omnibus.  

There’s no certainty that Republican leaders have the support in the House to pass either plan, with many rank-and-file lawmakers determined to use the spending bill as the sole vehicle for leverage.  

If they don’t have the necessary 218 GOP votes, they’ll need Democrats to lend a hand — and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has already made it clear her caucus won’t help hoist anything over the finish line that falls sort of a “clean” omnibus.  

“We will not be enablers to a Republican Government Shutdown, partial or otherwise,” said the California Democrat in a statement.  

In the end, passing a policy-rider-free omnibus could be House GOP leadership’s only option to spare itself a public relations nightmare of instigating a second government shutdown in just over a year. With each day that goes by, however, leadership’s challenge increases — and not just because leaders are constantly losing time to lob gambits over to the Senate in the process of reaching a two-chamber agreement.  

Tuesday alone presents multiple opportunities for House Republicans to stew in their dissatisfaction with Obama’s sweeping changes to national immigration policy that occurred without inclusion of the legislative branch.  

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is scheduled to testify before both the House Homeland Security and Judiciary committees Tuesday, where GOP lawmakers will undoubtedly slam him for his role in drafting and inevitably carrying out the orders.  

“Conversations with Conservatives,” a monthly question-and-answer session between the media and a panel of House Republicans, also takes place Tuesday, giving the base another opportunity to get riled up about the issue.  

Outside forces will continue to exert pressure on the GOP House, too. The Senate expects the House to vote on spending legislation first, and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and his colleagues could empower the other chamber to “lead” on the issue by taking a strong stand against “executive amnesty.”  

Conservative advocacy groups are also making their feelings known, crowing over a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service suggesting nothing is preventing Congress from blocking implementation of the immigration executive orders in an appropriations bill.  

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., has been trying to sell the narrative that because the agency doing the bulk of the executive orders’ implementation — the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service — is funded through fees, simply defunding the entity in an appropriations bill wouldn’t accomplish anything. A policy rider blocking wholesale implementation might be viable, but it would go against the practice of not legislating in an appropriations measure.  

Critics aren’t buying it.  

“That’s a convenient argument,” said Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, one of the executive action’s most vocal opponents, “but not one that’s been fully sustained by the decisions of our leaders over the last three or four years.”  

“Let’s be honest here,” added Dan Holler, spokesman for Heritage Action for America. “[Lawmakers] know how to do whatever they want to do.”  

Everybody says they don’t want a shutdown. However, those pledging to oppose a government spending bill that doesn’t explicitly stymie Obama’s immigration executive actions don’t have an answer for how to avoid such an outcome.  

With the Senate in Democratic control until January, it isn’t likely to approve of any House proposal that tinkers with the executive actions. Even if it were to clear the 60-vote threshold to advance a such a House bill, Obama could still veto the measure; he has already pledged to rebuff any bill that undermines his immigration policy changes.  

On Monday, stakeholders were keeping their powder dry. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel cautioned that “no decision has been made.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest declined to convey a veto threat in the scenario that Congress sends Obama a spending bill containing short-term funding for the Homeland Security Department.  

And as for whether Heritage Action would score members’ votes on a cromnibus or anything of its ilk, Holler was coy: “We’re a long way away from making a key vote decision.”  

Matt Fuller and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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