House Speaker John Boehner is rallying Republicans around a plan to show opposition to President Barack Obama’s immigration orders while averting a U.S. government shutdown.
Lawmakers of both parties said they’re open to the two-step approach. The House would cast a symbolic vote against Obama’s orders easing deportations, and both chambers would pass a separate bill to fund almost all of the government through September 2015.
“There’s no danger of shutdown,” said Louisiana Representative John Fleming, saying he could support the proposal with changes in timing. He was among the Republicans who backed last year’s drive to defund Obamacare, which led to a 16-day partial government shutdown in October 2013 and a drop in Republican public approval ratings.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid said the House approach is “something I’ll look at very closely.” It would be a “big accomplishment” to fund most of the government for the rest of the fiscal year, said the Nevada Democrat.
The Department of Homeland Security, with primary responsibility for immigration policy, would be funded only into March 2015 under the spending proposal.
The other House bill would deny the president authority to protect undocumented immigrants in the U.S. from deportation. Reid said the Senate won’t vote on the measure, and bill sponsor Ted Yoho, a Florida Republican, said he realized in that event his measure would be symbolic.
The strategy is a test of Boehner’s ability to control the Tea Party wing of his conference after the November election. Republican insistence on using a government funding bill to challenge Obama’s orders would be unlikely to pass the Democratic-led Senate.
Even if it did, Obama has said he would veto any legislation that would block his immigration orders. Congress must pass funding legislation by Dec. 11 or risk a partial government shutdown.
“We have limited options and limited abilities” to act directly on Obama’s immigration orders, Boehner of Ohio told reporters today. He said lawmakers are considering “a variety of options” for action this month and also in January when Republicans will control both chambers of Congress.
The air of compromise contrasts with 2013, when at least 80 House Republicans had signed a letter demanding to attach language defunding Obamacare to a government spending bill.
The proposal “is getting a good response,” said Representative Hal Rogers of Kentucky, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
“The mood is different,” Rogers said.
He said lawmakers learned in last month’s congressional election, in which Republicans gained seats in both chambers, that voters “want this place to operate, to get business done.”
Republican Matt Salmon of Arizona said he had only about 10 allies in his drive to attach language blocking Obama’s immigration orders to a yearlong spending bill.
Obama announced Nov. 20 that he would temporarily halt deportations for about 5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. His directive will defer for three years the deportation of people who came to the U.S. as children and for parents of children who are citizens or legal permanent residents.
The Department of Homeland Security will streamline the visa process for foreign workers and their employers and give high-skilled workers more flexible work authorization.
Even Alabama Representative Mo Brooks, among the most outspoken critics of Obama’s immigration orders, said he would consider voting for Boehner’s tentative plan, though only after Salmon’s approach fails.
“After we have at least tried to do the right thing on behalf of struggling American families, then if we’re defeated in that effort, in order to avoid a government shutdown, I’m willing to consider the two-step approach,” Brooks said.
Some House Republicans were critical of the proposal, including Representative Raul Labrador of Idaho. He said Republicans would be “capitulating” if they didn’t insist on imposing limits on Obama’s immigration plan as part of a spending bill.
Majority Whip Steve Scalise said he helped orchestrate the plan after talking with Yoho.
“It came out of conversations with members and Yoho was one of those who came forward with an idea,” he told reporters.
After Republicans take control of the Senate in January, Congress could fight the immigration order using a Department of Homeland Security funding bill.
Fleming of Louisiana said he would back Boehner’s plan if it set homeland security funding to end Jan. 15, requiring the next Congress to address the issue right away.
Joe Barton of Texas said Congress should defund work permits allowed under Obama’s executive order and next year enact a plan offering limited legalization of undocumented immigrants.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has threatened to withhold Democratic votes for a partial spending measure. If the threat holds, Boehner would have to get a large majority of his members on board to pass it.
A House Republican aide, who sought anonymity to describe private talks, said some members also propose a court challenge to the immigration orders. They want to add it to a lawsuit the House filed against Obama last month over implementation of the health-care law, the aide said.
The current fiscal year began Oct. 1, and the government has been operating on short-term funding scheduled to run out Dec. 11.
While Obama’s actions amount to the most significant changes to the nation’s immigration system in a generation, they don’t go as far as the legislation that passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote in June 2013 and stalled in the House.
The Senate bill would create a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants now in the U.S. Second-ranking House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland and other members of his party have said they hope Obama’s move will force Congress into acting on legislation.