Current funding for the federal government runs out a week from Thursday, just nine days from now, and it's apparently up to House Republicans to avoid another government shutdown.
What could possibly go wrong?
The basic dynamic is pretty simple: the parties already agree on spending levels, but GOP lawmakers claim to be outraged by President Obama's executive actions on immigration. A variety of congressional Republicans want to leverage a spending bill to undo the White House policy -- a move that would guarantee that the government's lights would go out on Dec. 11.
House Republicans are reviewing a plan by Representative Tom Price of Georgia, who is popular among more conservative members, that offers a hybrid solution: a combination of a broad-based spending bill that would keep the government funded through September 2015 and a stopgap spending measure to pay for operations of the Department of Homeland Security, the agency with primary responsibility for carrying out Mr. Obama's immigration action. That plan, which is being called the "Cromnibus" for its combined elements of a continuing resolution for the short-term portion and omnibus for the broader-based spending, is likely to be considered when House Republicans gather Tuesday morning in a closed-door meeting.
The plan is not without flaws. For one thing, the party remains divided -- many GOP leaders and appropriators prefer a clean spending bill that leaves the immigration fight for another day. For another, this approach doesn't actually undermine the Obama administration, so much as it kicks the can down the road, creating conditions for a partial shutdown in 2015.
Perhaps most importantly, even if the Republican plan were executed perfectly, and they blocked funding for immigration enforcement in a showdown with the White House early next year, the GOP reward would be the opposite of what the right wants: the federal government would no longer have resources to enforce immigration laws.
Remember, most House Republicans consider this their best strategy.
It's also unclear whether far-right lawmakers will consider this aggressive enough -- they want to smack down the White House, not feel placated by half-measures. That said, Politico reported
yesterday that GOP leaders "freely admit" that Obama's immigration policy "will likely stand and there's little Congress can do about it." Their goal, then, is "to craft a process that will allow conservatives to vent, but prevent a shutdown."
But giving conservatives an opportunity to "vent" in a legislative context -- with nine days before a shutdown deadline -- is generally a risky proposition.
And to that end, another
element of the possible plan is taking shape
By Monday night, leaders were beginning to gauge whether their colleagues would support a bill introduced by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) that states the executive branch does not have the power to exempt some people from immigration laws -- a direct affront to Obama's moves. The Florida Republican's bill is expected to garner widespread support in the House conference and give GOP lawmakers an outlet to vent some of their frustrations with Obama. The Senate is not likely to take up the measure. Boehner and other GOP leaders hope that by allowing them to vote for the Yoho bill they can get enough support from the rank and file to move forward with a funding deal, which will keep nearly all the government open until September 2015, while funding immigration enforcement agencies on a short-term basis.
There's that word again, "vent."
It's entirely unclear what will come of this mess, but we're witnessing a powerful reminder that the House is effectively run by intemperate children who feel entitled to occasional tantrums.
House Republicans will meet this morning to kick around ideas for getting out of the mess they created for themselves on purpose. Watch this space.