It was just 10 days ago that Republican candidates won big in elections nationwide. It was just nine days ago that incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) publicly declared, “There will be no government shutdown or default on the national debt.”
But that was last week. This week, as Benjy Sarlin reports, many congressional Republicans are gearing up for yet another shutdown showdown.
President Obama is considering an executive order that would provide relief for as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. And Republicans are gearing up to fight the White House “tooth and nail” over the action, with conservatives in Congress drafting a plan to tie up a must-pass spending bill that could lead to a government shutdown.
Predicting the likely outcome of the fight is tricky, in part because no one has actually seen the White House’s executive actions that Republicans are already condemning, and in part because Republicans themselves are divided on how best to proceed.
For his part, McConnell said again yesterday that “there is no possibility of a government shutdown,” at least not in this session. Soon after, however, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declared that “all options are on the table” when it comes to GOP opposition to the president’s policies.
Boehner’s posturing is very likely the result of pressure from his House Republican members, who tend to lead their leaders, rather than the other way around. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) has assembled 59 GOP lawmakers – and counting – who’ve endorsed a letter calling on Congress to “prohibit the use of funds by the administration for the implementation of current or future executive actions that would create additional work permits and green cards outside of the scope prescribed by Congress.”
To be sure, 59 is hardly a majority, but the number is growing and Republican fury isn’t subsiding.
If GOP lawmakers decide to pursue a shutdown strategy, here’s how it would work:
Current federal funding expires on Dec. 11, at which point the government would shut down (again). It’s been widely assumed that both the Republican-led House and Democratic-run Senate would approve spending measures to keep the lights on well into 2015.
But with Obama weighing action on immigration, conservative lawmakers have decided the spending bills give them leverage. If the president wants to prevent a mid-December shutdown, he’ll have to sign the measures Congress passes, so Republicans want to include provisions in the bill that would prevent the administration from curtailing deportations.
GOP lawmakers realize, of course, that the president would never sign such a bill, but they’re eager to push the gambit anyway.
It’s tempting to think Republicans wouldn’t shut down the government again, especially after last year’s fiasco, but therein lies the point: GOP officials realize that they forced a government shutdown for no apparent reason, humiliated themselves in the public’s eyes, and did real damage to the country, but a year later voters had forgotten all about it. Indeed, voters rewarded Republicans with expanded power anyway.
As a result, GOP lawmakers learned a lesson: they can engage in ridiculous antics, but the public will forget. In this case, if Republicans force a shutdown next month, they’ll have two full years before Americans vote again, at which point the standoff will be a distant memory.
Watch this space.