Vetoes and the threats thereof are about to become regular features in Washington, DC, and President Obama appears to be taking a few warm-up tosses in advance of the Republican takeover of Congress. Last week, the president said he'd reject a bipartisan deal on tax extenders -- on which Harry Reid was a chief negotiator -- because it "exclude[s] a pair of Obama's top priorities." That deal blew up anyway, as a result of Obama's controversial executive action on immigration. Now the White House is vowing to veto a spending bill that funds all of the government, but blocks Obama's sweeping amnesty fiat. From yesterday's briefing:
Note that Josh Earnest gives a definitive answer on the first scenario painted by ABC News' Jonathan Karl, but deflects on option B -- which goes like this: Congress passes a spending bill that funds all of the federal government for the next ten months except for the Department of Homeland Security, money for which is only extended until early next year. DHS funding is one of Congress' most powerful levers (how powerful, though? See below) in de-funding or hampering Obama's unilateral action on immigration. The idea is that if the rest of the government is funded through next fall, an early 2015 fight over that narrow band of DHS money would deprive the White House of its turn-key "Republicans are shutting down the government!" demagoguery, which is dismayingly effective. Sure, there'd be a big fight over the issue, and potentially a (very) partial government shutdown, but Democrats couldn't trot out NIH funding for sick kids, or national park closures, or the rest of their typical 'parade of horribles' to win the political fight. Based on several reports, this is the path House Republicans are planning to venture down before the Christmas recess. They'll vote to formally disapprove of Obama's amnesty scheme -- pure symbolism -- then pass a short-term funding measure for DHS, setting up the battle described above for when the new, redder Congress convenes. New details from National Journal:
House Republicans floated a three-part plan Tuesday to fund most of the government through the end of the fiscal year, temporarily fund the Homeland Security Department, and vote to symbolically rebuke President Obama for his executive order on immigration. Speaker John Boehner told the GOP Conference in a closed-door meeting that the House will vote on an omnibus bill that would fund the government through September but fund DHS only through March. The plan, which had been floated theoretically for weeks, would give the House another opportunity to confront the president on immigration funding early next year. At the same time, the House will vote on a separate bill from Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida stating that the president does not have the authority to shelter undocumented immigrants from deportation.
One problem: Even if Republicans de-fund DHS over immigration next year, there's still a good chance that the amnesty gears will continue to churn:
A complicating factor, however, is that the primary agency responsible for carrying out the president’s executive action is United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is financed entirely through fees collected from immigration applications and therefore cannot be defunded in the appropriations process. Republicans seemed to acknowledge that there was little they could do to stop the president, no matter how loudly they protest. Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, said that short of going to court — which is still an option that Republicans are considering — there was not much they could do.
So...Homeland Security funding gets interrupted, yet the power grab remains unaffected? Terrific. Here's Boehner telling reporters that the president's decisions to thumb his nose at November's election results and move ahead with his highly legally dubious mass amnesty decree has poisoned the well, making it very difficult to trust Obama on any issue at all:
So will this funding/immigration three-step fly with conservatives? On one hand, the current plan avoids a bruising pre-Christmas (or post-Christmas) shutdown battle for which the general public is strongly opposed and already primed to blame Republicans. The GOP doesn't want to squander its goodwill and newfound political strength right out of the gate. Plus, by isolating immigration-related funding from the larger pot, the "shutdown theater" stakes will be much lower in the early part of 2015. And forcing the president's hand and gaining the political high ground on the issue will be significantly easier after Harry Reid is demoted in January. On the other hand, the editors of the Washington Examiner warn that allowing the Democrat-held Senate to lock in spending levels for the vast majority of government for nearly an entire year (possibly at Ryan-Murray levels) is too cute by half -- winning a positioning partially symbolic skirmish on immigration at the expense of an even greater responsibility:
It's still a terrible idea to pass a long-term spending bill during a lame-duck Congress. Republicans and conservatives did not just knock on doors, make calls, post yard signs, and donate millions in the recent election so that Harry Reid's zombie Senate — the one the voters just rejected — could live on for another ten months through whatever last-minute spending bills it is willing to pass. Congress should instead pass a true omnibus that lasts until February, then return next month to set longer-term priorities and levels of spending. Anything else simply forfeits leverage against a president who is desperate and obviously hungry for more executive power.
So that's where we stand. Democrats, naturally, want a long-term "clean" omnibus spending package that funds the government for many months, with no strings attached. Many Republicans want to give them their wish -- except on the immigration front, on which they're preparing to fight...over funding that may not even directly impact Obama's action. Other conservatives want a short, "clean" omnibus bill, then an all-out brawl on everything in the new year. Democrats' wishes are largely irrelevant at this point. The question is whether the GOP can win a full-blown "shutdown" showdown with Obama in 2015 (again, polls say no), and whether it makes political sense to try when there's an alternative on the table that would allow them to pressure Democrats and the White House on the white hot issue of Obama's immigration overreach. By the way, if you're wondering why Obama's happy to take his public opinion lumps on amnesty now, look no further than the red line's post-amnesty spike:
Democrats are playing a cynical, divisive, race-based long game.