State of Play:
With only 10 days before the current funding for the federal government expires, House Republican leaders are trying to strike a balance between the conservatives determined to stop President Obama’s immigration order and other lawmakers just as determined to avoid another politically damaging government shutdown.
If House Speaker John Boehner fails to get his members to coalesce around a single strategy, Republicans risk being jammed by Democrats with a full, “clean” omnibus spending bill. But with the Senate in Democratic control until January, it isn’t likely to approve any House proposal that tinkers with the executive actions. Moreover, Obama has already pledged to rebuff any bill that undermines his immigration policy changes.
Here are several things that could impact the dynamics today:
- GOP lawmakers hold a regularly scheduled, closed-door meeting Tuesday, where the leadership will solicit feedback on how to proceed with funding the federal government while blocking the immigration order
- A recent Congressional Research Service report, requested by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., suggested that Congress could, indeed, block implementation of the president’s executive order in an appropriations bill
- Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is scheduled to testify before both the House Homeland Security and Judiciary committees Tuesday, where GOP lawmakers will undoubtedly slam him for his role in drafting and inevitably carrying out the executive order
- “Conversations with Conservatives,” a monthly question-and-answer session between the media and a panel of House Republicans, also takes place Tuesday, giving the rank-and-file another opportunity to get riled up about the issue
Given all of that, here are the latest omnibus scenarios, with commentary from CQ BudgetTracker Editor George Cahlink on the likelihood of each scenario:
Scenario 1: “Cromnibus” / “Price Plan”
Incoming House Budget Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., is the conservative face helping to sell tea party Republicans on a plan to avoid a shutdown by passing an omnibus spending package that would provide fresh funds for all agencies through fiscal 2015, except the agencies associated with carrying out the president’s recent immigration actions.
In this “Cromnibus” proposal — a combination of a continuing resolution, or CR, for immigration agencies and an omnibus for the rest of government — 11 of the 12 annual bills would comprise the omnibus, while the Department of Homeland Security would be funded at current levels under a CR, lasting only a few months, to give the new Congress leverage to force changes in immigration policy.
GOP leaders are also calling the proposal the “Price Plan,” a move designed to tie the idea to the new Budget chairman rather than leadership. Price, who is not an appropriator and often a critic of federal spending, is popular with his party’s right flank and may have the credibility to convince conservatives to back the plan rather than take a more confrontational approach.
Price’s role underscores just how little clout appropriators, once the most powerful of members in both chambers, have with rank-and-file House conservatives, many of whom tend to see those serving on the spending panels as advocates for increased federal funding.
Likelihood, according to BudgetTracker Editor George Cahlink: “Republicans seem likely to win on their push to limit Homeland Security, but it would be somewhat ambitious for the polarized Congress to agree on fresh funding for the rest of government.”
Scenario 2: “Cromnibus” + Immigration Vote
Another scenario would incorporate the less-controversial spending measures into the omnibus, with the remaining annual appropriations measures, except Homeland Security, getting a long-term CR.
In exchange, the House would also take a symbolic vote blocking the president’s executive action on immigration, but it would not be taken up or defeated in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
CQ BudgetTracker forecasts the bipartisan spending bills for Defense and Military Construction-Veterans Affairs are a near-certainty in any omnibus as their presence would build support for the deal.
Another spending measure likely to make it is the non-contentious Legislative Branch bill. Also favored for the omnibus would be the Commerce-Justice-Science, Energy-Water and Transportation-HUD measures, although how lawmakers make up for a multibillion drop in federal housing revenue could complicate the T-HUD bill.
Agriculture too would be a strong candidate provided negotiators can resolve disputes over a GOP-backed rider aimed at delaying school lunch standards championed by the White House.
CQ BudgetTracker expects that four spending bills — Labor-HHS-Education, State-Foreign Operations, Financial Services and Interior Environment — have at best even shots at making the omnibus as they fund some of the more contentious programs, including the 2010 health care law, the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul, foreign aid programs and the EPA.
The Department of Homeland Security, of course, would get a short-term CR in this scenario that would likely go through February 2015 – enough time for the new Congress to get sworn in and settled in, and for GOP lawmakers to adequately explore defunding the immigration order through an appropriations bill.
Likelihood, according to CQ BudgetTracker: “This is the most plausible scenario for the fiscal 2015 spending bills, provided conservatives feel the short-term funding and symbolic vote are enough to express their frustration on immigration.”
Scenario 3: A full short-term CR that bleeds into the debt ceiling
The automatic, across-the-board reductions in spending, known as sequestration, that took effect in 2013 was part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which, itself, was a byproduct of intense disagreement among lawmakers in 2011 on raising the country’s debt limit.
In the Budget Control Act, Congress essentially threatened itself with sequestration unless it was able to reach a compromise on debt reduction – and that didn’t happen.
The timing of any short-term CR would bring its renewal within proximity of the expiration of the debt ceiling limit in March 2015, raising the specter of government funding and the debt ceiling becoming entangled in another intense disagreement.
A recent Congressional Research Service memo being circulated by Sen. Sessions, the ranking Budget Committee Republican, may have increased the chances of a full short-term CR.
The suggestion in the CRS report that it may be “theoretically possible” to write language into the spending package to deny funding for the immigration actions have emboldened some conservatives to do just that.
Any attempt to block the funds in the year-end package, however, would likely be rejected by the Democratic Senate and, even if cleared, could spark a presidential veto.
And if House GOP leaders are unable to find support for an omnibus, their fallback option could be a short-term CR to cover government spending for two or three months. Tea party Republicans tend to favor that plan as they believe they could write a spending package more to their liking in the next Congress.
Likelihood, according to CQ BudgetTracker: “This option for now is not preferred by either party, but could become the default plan if the omnibus or ‘Cromnibus’ plans falter.”