Thanksgiving may be behind us, but lawmakers returning to Capitol Hill on Monday still have a very full plate of legislative items they must address as they head into the final two-weeks of the lame-duck session.
Much like last year, a government shutdown looms if Congress cannot pass a spending bill that runs out on Dec. 11. But this year is particularly thorny in light of President Barack Obama’s recent executive action to shield as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Some Republican House members have suggested they will use the budget — denying funding to agencies overseeing the executive action — as a way to stop the president from implementing his immigration plan.
Republicans have a delicate balancing act. On one hand, they want to avoid bearing the brunt of the government shutdown blame as they did last year. But they also want to show they are willing and able to push back against Obama’s plan on immigration, which many on the right view as government overreach.
Democrats, who only have control of the Senate up until January, want to secure deals that go far into next year. And, of course, they would be sure to oppose such a measure that tries to isolate immigration funding — increasingly the likelihood of stalemate and a government shutdown.
Republican Rep. and Sen.-elect Tom Cotton of Arkansas told NBC’s “Meet The Press” on Sunday that isolating items having to do with immigration “is one possible solution.” The lawmaker said another option is to “pass a short-term spending measure to let a new and accountable Congress, not a lame-duck Congress, make the decision.”
Some Republicans, like Rep. Tom Price, the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee, is pushing for a plan that would fund the president’s immigration agencies only until early 2015. Then a GOP-majority Senate could come in early next year and potentially block the spending.
Meanwhile, outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threatened on Monday afternoon to hold Congress in session on Christmas if lawmakers are unable to compromise. "We may have to be here the week before Christmas and hopefully, Mr. President, not into the Christmas holiday. But there are things we have to get done," the Nevada Democrat said on the Senate floor. Reid's tactic isn't new. In the past, he's repeatedly threatened to work on the holidays and on the weekend if agreements aren't hammered out.
A request for comment from House Speaker John Boehner on whether or not he’d be willing to use the budget as a way to stop the president from implementing his immigration plan was not immediately returned. Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, simply said, “The House will originate the funding bill. I don’t know yet what all it will include.”
The budget and immigration are the two biggest issues the 113th Congress will have to address by the end of the year. But other items on the list include reauthorizing expired tax breaks for individuals and businesses, providing money to combat the terrorist group known as ISIS and, separately, Ebola.
The National Defense Authorization Act, which has passed for 52 years in a row, has hit a roadblock this year over proposals that would increase out-of-pocket fees for military families' health insurance plans. And GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has said when Congress comes back in December, he will introduce a bill to officially declare war on ISIS. “Right now, this war is illegal until Congress acts pursuant to the Constitution and authorizes it,” Paul said in a statement.
Obama’s executive action on immigration will dominate Capitol Hill discussions on Tuesday. The Homeland Security and Judiciary committees are scheduled to hold hearings about the move. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is expected to testify in front of the Homeland Security committee.