After more than a week of bitter fuming and venting about Obama’s unilateral action on immigration, congressional Republicans have concluded reluctantly that they have limited options during the closing weeks of the lame duck Congress short of precipitating another government crisis – an option that few but the most ardent Tea Party conservatives might favor.
The House this week will pass a resolution stating strong objection to the president’s immigration action. But they have another trick up their sleeves: the “Cromnibus” bill, which merges a short-term continuing resolution with a massive Omnibus spending bill.
The CR provisionally funds the Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for implementing Obama’s executive order while the Omnibus part of the bill provides permanent funding for the vast majority of the government through the end of the fiscal year, which ends on September 30, 2015.
Cromnibus allows the GOP to voice strong disapproval of President Obama’s executive order sheltering millions of illegal immigrants from deportation without raising the threat of another government shutdown.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on Tuesday called the president’s controversial order benefitting more than four million undocumented immigrants “a serious breach of our Constitution, it’s a serious threat to our system of government.”
“And frankly, we have limited options and limited abilities to deal with it directly.” That’s because the Democrats remain in control of the Senate until the end of the year and President Obama has vowed to veto any spending measure that would undermine his executive order.
So with a Dec. 11 deadline looming for action on spending measures to keep the government operating, House Republicans appear close to a two-step maneuver to simultaneously save face while avoiding a repeat of last year’s 16-day government shutdown that was largely blamed on the GOP.
Jeh Johnson, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and the chief architect of Obama’s plan, offered a vigorous defense of the executive order before a largely hostile House committee this morning.
“I’m satisfied as a lawyer myself — and as the person who has to come here and defend these actions — that what we have done is well within our existing legal authority,” Johnson told the House Homeland Security Committee. He also sought to defend Obama’s previous statements in which the president doubted he had the legal authority to temporarily block deportations.
Meanwhile, speaking at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council annual meeting this morning, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky reiterated his promise that there would not be another government shutdown. However, he said that the Senate Republicans will have to play a supporting role in the shadow of House Republicans until they take over the Senate in January.
“We're going to support what the House Republicans send over to us,” said the soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader. "Next year, we'll be sort-of more co-equal partners on that issue.”
Looking forward, McConnell said that he was not sure how much room there would be for bipartisan compromise with Obama in the wake of the Republicans’ big win in the Nov. 4 mid-term election.
“You look at the way the president has reacted to what can only be described as a butt-kicking election,” McConnell said. “Maybe you could explain away us winning red states with Senate races. How do you explain the governor of Maryland, the governor of Massachusetts, the governor of Illinois? By any objective standard the president got crushed in this election. So I’ve been perplexed by the reaction since the election, the kind of in-your-face dramatic move to the left. So, I don’t know what we can expect in terms of reaching bipartisan agreements.”
He said his first choice is “to look at the things we actually agree on, if there are any. At least on trade I think there is potential for agreement. Trade agreements are more popular in my conference than they are in the Democratic conference. Comprehensive tax reform, we all think it ought to be done.”
On the issue of immigration reform, McConnell said the problem with existing legislation is its comprehensive nature. “I think what’s made it really difficult for the Congress to swallow is the comprehensive nature of the way it’s been presented.”
Without mentioning that the bill in question passed the Senate with a bipartisan majority last year, McConnell said that if he were running things, “I would bust it up.” He said it would be more effective to start passing elements of the bill piecemeal, starting with another expansion of border security efforts.
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