Republicans on Capitol Hill remain unsure of how to proceed should President Obama issue his expected executive order on immigration.
One the one hand, immigration hawks in the House and Senate are committed to the following general strategy. The best way to stop a unilateral amnesty for 5 million illegal immigrants is to block the funding for it, and the best way to block the funding is to push the decision to the next Congress, when Republicans will have majorities in both houses. The result would be a funding standoff between the united GOP Congress and the president, and unless one side blinks, the government would shut down. It’s not pretty or desirable, the hawks say, but the debate over executive power and amnesty would be in the clear, open air.
The response from House and Senate leadership to this strategy is simple and direct: Shutdowns are sure losers for the GOP. Obama and a sympathetic media will never let Republicans get away with pinning the blame on the president. The first act of the united Republican Congress will be to shut down the government, an act that would go against the current good-government message from GOP leaders.
Separate from the executive order debate, House leaders have been more inclined to pass a long-term funding bill since even before the midterm elections. House appropriations chairman Hal Rogers has pushed back within the conference at any efforts to pass short-term spending fixes, advocating for an omnibus bill that would fund the government through the next fiscal year, or late 2015. This is “regular order” for appropriations, and it fits in nicely with the leadership view that Republicans must “show they can govern.”
Immigration hawks are resisting the long-term omnibus, arguing that passing it would dull efforts to block funding for executive amnesty next year. Rogers and the appropriations committee didn’t have an answer to that, until Tuesday morning's House GOP conference meeting. Rogers told his colleagues that passing the omnibus bill in the lame duck didn’t mean Republicans still couldn’t put up a funding fight in 2015 over executive amnesty. The process is called rescission, and what it means is that Congress can “cancel” funds already appropriated. A rescission can be narrower and more focused than a short-term CR in stripping funding for specific programs, like printing green cards for amnestied illegal immigrants. But just like any other kind of spending bill, a president can veto a rescission.
A GOP aide points out that Republicans have successfully passed rescissions with a Democratic president before, most recently during the Clinton administration. And rescissions don’t need to be attached to spending bills. During the Clinton years, they were attached to bills of priority to the president. Republicans could pass a rescission of funds for executive amnesty and attach it to a bill of high priority to Obama, the aide notes. There’s a record of success here that can’t be said for short-term continuing resolutions and government shutdowns.
But the rescission suggestion raises the question: What does Obama prioritize more than expanding deferred action and providing a legal pathway for illegal immigrants? It’s certain he would veto a rescission, just as he would any spending bill that would stop him from implementing his executive order. In the end, Republicans hoping to block amnesty through rescission will end up back where they started.
For some Republicans on the Hill, though, rescission is the best of a host of bad options, without the public relations headache of a shutdown. For immigration hawks, it’s laying down your weapon only to pick it up after the fighting’s done.