Analysis: Can House GOP stay on immigration script

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Posted: Dec 08, 2014 11:31 AM
Analysis: Can House GOP stay on immigration script

WASHINGTON (AP) — After declaring President Barack Obama's new policy on deportations "null and void," House Republicans are ready to fund the federal government before a Thursday deadline without additional immigration-related controversy, adjourn for the year and await a new, GOP-controlled Senate in January.

Maybe.

If so, it would mark a rare occasion since a tea party-heavy Republican majority took over four years ago that Plan A went according to script. Last year's partial government shutdown, higher tax rates for millions enacted in 2012 and a humbling 2011 surrender on payroll taxes are evidence of that.

Nor is there any certainty Republicans will force Obama to back down, even if they do stick to the path they are on.

"We think this is the most practical way to fight the president's action," Speaker John Boehner recently told reporters, stopping short of predicting success. "Come January we'll have a Republican House and Republican Senate, and we'll be in a stronger position to take actions."

For better or worse, the strategy has three parts.

The first is to approve symbolic legislation that declares Obama's order to shield millions of immigrants from deportation to be "null and void and without legal effect." That was accomplished on Thursday on a vote of 219-197.

The second is to approve funding for the Department of Homeland Security through February or March without tying it to any immediate change in immigration policy, while also funding the rest of the government through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year. Without action, most agencies will run out of money Thursday at midnight.

The third is to mount a fresh challenge to Obama's immigration policy after the new, Republican-controlled Senate takes office in January.

The approach has its dissenters.

"Having said we're going to do everything we can to stop this — and then to do nothing to stop it — really hurts," said Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, a recognition that the stand-alone deportation bill will die in the Senate.

It will be midweek at the earliest before it is clear if the in-house critics are able to force a new strategy on Boehner and the leadership.

After four years of struggling with an unruly rank and file, the speaker said he wanted it known that this was not merely a leadership-devised approach to the latest clash with Obama. "We listen to our members, and we listen to some members who are, frankly, griping the most. This was their way to proceed," the Ohio Republican said on Thursday.

Griping is not new among GOP lawmakers, many of whom never held office before their tea party-backed elections in 2010. Nor are showdowns with the White House that place a higher premium on unity than on ideological purity.

A little more than a year ago, in a situation similar to the current one, Republican dissidents made it clear they would not provide money to implement the nation's health care law. A partial government shutdown resulted, which sent the party's poll numbers plummeting.

A year earlier, with a so-called fiscal cliff looming at the end of 2012, Republican rebels balked at Boehner's proposal for legislation to lock in tax rates for most workers, while letting them rise for $1 million-earners.

After days of maneuvering, Republicans were forced to settle for a last-minute plan that wound up raising income tax rates on individuals with incomes higher than $400,000 and couples over $450,000 — an even worse outcome from their point of view.

But by the end, the only alternative was to shoulder the blame for middle-class tax hikes, an expiration of unemployment benefits for 2 million victims of the recession, a 27 percent cut in fees for doctors who treat Medicare patients — and a $900 pay increase for lawmakers.

The previous year, House Republicans had maneuvered themselves into a corner when a temporary payroll tax cut enacted to counter the recession was due to expire. They advocated a full-year extension, but negotiations with Senate Democrats had faltered when it came to agreeing on spending cuts to cover the cost.

Senate Democrats produced a two-month temporary payroll tax cut extension as a fallback. It passed the Senate with support from both sides of the political aisle, but it drew scorn from some of the most conservative, tea party-backed voices in the House.

"I've never seen us so unified," Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, said at the time, after a telephone conference call in which Boehner had presented the proposal.

Or so defeated.

The House decided not to vote on the two-month bill and instead requested further negotiations with the Senate. It was a proposal easily ignored, which the White House and Senate Democrats did.

Cut off from Senate Republicans and other customary allies, the House surrendered the day before Christmas.

"In the end House Republicans felt like they were re-enacting the Alamo, with no reinforcements and our friends shooting at us," said veteran Republican Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas.

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EDITOR'S NOTE — David Espo is The Associated Press' chief congressional correspondent.