House GOP plan on fighting amnesty emerges: Formal resolution challenging Obama plus "cromnibus"

Honestly, let’s just skip the empty gestures like censure (which may be unconstitutional) or a resolution challenging Obama’s authority. All they do is highlight how impotent Congress is. They’re an easy way for Boehner to pander to conservatives with no practical effect:

The two-part plan, which GOP leadership laid out Monday evening to some lawmakers, is designed to give Republicans an opportunity to express displeasure with the White House’s move on immigration while avoiding a shutdown.

The disapproval of Obama’s unilateral action — which states the executive branch cannot selectively enforce immigration deportation laws — won’t change much, since the Senate will likely ignore it.

It’s a rhetorical wrist slap that won’t even pass both chambers. If they’re that hot to condemn O for his ridiculous power grab, bring the resolution up again in January when McConnell — maybe — can get it through the Senate too, whereupon it’ll be duly vetoed by His Majesty. As for the “cromnibus,” you already know what that is, I hope. It’s two bills, one of which will fund all of the government except Homeland Security through next fall and the other of which will fund DHS specifically through March, when the new Republican Senate will be seated and can take this issue up again. If Obama doesn’t scale back his amnesty before March, DHS will run out of money. If both bills pass, the GOP will have achieved their twin goals of avoiding a total government shutdown while also preserving some power of the purse over Homeland Security to pressure Obama into rescinding his executive action on immigration.

There’s just one problem:

A complicating factor, however, is that the primary agency responsible for carrying out the president’s executive action is United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is financed entirely through fees collected from immigration applications and therefore cannot be defunded in the appropriations process.

Republicans seemed to acknowledge that there was little they could do to stop the president, no matter how loudly they protest. Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, said that short of going to court — which is still an option that Republicans are considering — there was not much they could do.

Sounds like we’re going to end up with a “donut” effect in defunding DHS. Most of the government will be fully funded via the omnibus spending bill; the actual agency inside DHS that’s responsible for implementing amnesty will also be funded, thanks to the fee scheme described in the excerpt. The only thing that gets defunded is the rest of the Department of Homeland Security, which is politically risky — especially if, as it appears, the tactic will fail to stop the amnesty that it’s designed to target. “Republicans are depriving crucial parts of our national security of resources out of spite for me,” Obama will say. In fact, Jeh Johnson, his DHS chief, already said something like that in his hearing before the House this morning, arguing that a short-term funding bill for Homeland Security a la the “cromnibus” is too dangerous:

“That is, in my judgment, a very bad idea for Homeland Security, because during that period of the CR we do not engage in new starts,” he said Tuesday morning, speaking before the House Committee on Homeland Security. “We’ve got some Homeland Security priorities that need to be funded now.”

Johnson said should Congress only pass a short-term continuing resolution, he would be unable to hire new Secret Service agents needed ahead of the 2016 presidential elections. A funding bill that stretched only to March would also harm the agency’s ability to fund its new detention facility in Texas, he said.

Think Boehner and McConnell are going to pull the plug on DHS in March and risk a White House media campaign along these lines, at a moment when people like Christie and Rubio are announcing they’re running for president to rebuild America’s national defense? Me neither.

The only way out is to supersede Obama’s order by passing some immigration bills of their own — which, coincidentally, is what Jeb Bush encouraged them to do at a fundraiser yesterday that included McConnell. Raul Labrador also expects to see some Republican bills on immigration next year. Hmmmmm. Exit question: What purpose is served by punting the standoff over DHS funding to next March? If Republicans want to protest executive amnesty by defunding the department, they can do it now by passing a bill that funds everything except Homeland Security. The fear, I guess, is that Obama will veto a bill like that (or Reid will block it in the Senate), triggering a shutdown, but if O wants to go that route, he could reject the “cromnibus” as well — national security requires a full year of funding for DHS, don’tcha know — and dare Boehner to either give up entirely on this defunding idea or risk the political consequences of a total shutdown. Given how confrontational O’s been since getting his ass kicked in the midterms, I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t do exactly that.

Update: A friend who works in the immigration field e-mails with an important point of clarification: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that’s “immune” from defunding because it’s supported by immigration fees, isn’t the only one charged with carrying out Obama’s amnesty. Other agencies like ICE are in charge of the threshold decisions about whether a particular illegal should be removed/deported or not — and those agencies do depend on congressional appropriations. So the GOP Congress could defund O’s amnesty at least in part. Assuming Boehner and McConnell dare.

Update: A commenter points to this piece by Sean Davis, who worked for Sen. Tom Coburn, claiming that the entire idea that USCIS can’t be defunded is bogus. It’s true that USCIS runs off of fees collected by immigrants, says Davis, but they don’t get to touch those fees unless Congress says so. If Congress adds a rider to the next spending bill forbidding them from doing that, poof — there goes USCIS’s money.