Remember when House Speaker John Boehner said he was “trying to get off to a fast start” in the new Republican-controlled Congress? Nearly two months in, the GOP has managed to take a few more votes to repeal Obamacare and force the Keystone XL pipeline. They put up an extreme anti-abortion measure, but had to swap it for another one at the last minute due to a revolt within the ranks.
Now, with hours to go until the Department of Homeland Security runs out of money, Republicans in the House are trying to find a way to drag out their battle to undo President Obama’s executive order on immigration enforcement, while avoiding a shutdown.
The House will vote Friday on a temporary measure to fund DHS for three more weeks. For obvious reasons, Republicans are wary about shutting down the agency that deals with terrorism and immigration while simultaneously freaking out about terrorism and immigration. But Boehner won’t abandon the wing-nut caucus and their quest to block “executive amnesty” via the appropriations process, either. The stopgap measure is an attempt to make everyone happy, though ultimately it only prolongs the misery.
On Friday morning the Senate easily passed a “clean” bill to fund DHS until September, with no language to block Obama’s orders. Still, leadership from both parties indicated they will support the House’s temporary funding measure if it passes in the interest of avoiding a shutdown. “I don’t know if they can pass the three-week bill. We would much prefer they do a full funding bill. But we’re not going to shut the government down,” Chuck Schumer, the vice chair of the Senate’s Democratic conference, said Friday on MSNBC. (There’s a small chance that even the temporary bill won’t pass the House. Democrats are whipping against it, which means that most Republicans will have to be on board.)
Passage of the stopgap measure would be undeniably good news for DHS employees who have been waiting to hear if they’ll be told to stay home on Monday (without pay) or come to work anyway (without pay). And yet it’s entirely possible that come March 19, when the temporary funding extension expires, federal employees will again find themselves back at the edge of the cliff, hostage to the House GOP.
In order to keep up the fight against the immigration orders during the three-week grace period, House Republicans will seek a conference with the Senate in order to reconcile differences between the Senate’s “clean” funding bill and an already-passed House bill that axes Obama’s actions. But that’s a nonstarter for Senate Democrats, as minority leader Harry Reid made clear on Thursday. “We will not allow a conference to take place. It won’t happen,” he said on Thursday.
With a veto the sure fate of any bill that undoes the executive orders, there is no way the GOP hardliners can win legislatively. (The courts are another story.) Of course, Boehner could put an end to the circus immediately by putting a clean funding bill up for a vote in the House, where it would likely pass with support from Democrats. That’s what will happen eventually, anyway, as in other shutdown fights. But why rush?