Senate GOP ready to split DHS funding and blocking Obama's amnesty into separate bills?

We knew it would come to this. Alternate headline: “Party that promised to avoid shutdowns will avoid shutdown.”

At least we’ll get some entertainment over the next few days from GOP aides trying to convince the media this isn’t a total cave.

Senate Republican leaders are plotting a new strategy that they hope will allow them to prevent a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) next week.

They are considering a plan in which they would split off legislation attacking President Obama’s executive action on immigration from funding for DHS, according to a Senate GOP aide familiar with the discussions.

Senate GOP leaders are also looking at dropping any effort to overturn Obama’s 2012 executive action, which set up the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Polls suggest this program is more popular because it helps illegal immigrants who came to the country as children…

“We would try to have a vote on just that issue,” the aide added. “Does it have to be addressed as part of DHS, or can it be addressed separately? If we can get to that issue and have a vote on that issue, then you come back to DHS appropriations.

The point of the cromnibus in linking DHS funding to blocking Obama’s executive amnesty was to put extra pressure on Senate Dems and Obama to agree to the GOP’s demand. Want Homeland Security (or at least its nonessential agencies) to keep running? Aha! — better join Republicans in undoing O’s immigration action then. Two months later, delinking the funding is supposedly the way to put pressure on Obama and the Dems. Want to force Joe Manchin, Claire McCaskill, and other centrists to take a truly tough vote on all this? Aha! — pass a clean funding bill for DHS, taking that issue off the table, and then present them with a new bill focused squarely on overturning Obama’s November mega-amnesty. You can tell your party’s being run by master strategists when their grand plan for achieving an important goal involves doing the exact opposite of what they wanted to do as recently as six weeks ago. Gonna be a fun two years for the new majority.

But I’m being unfair. Undoing Obama’s amnesty has never been a serious goal: McConnell doesn’t have a prayer of getting the 67 votes he’d need to override an Obama veto absent extraordinary circumstances, and the only extraordinary circumstances that might put pressure on Democrats would require the GOP to take potentially huge political risks. A party willing to stand firm even if it meant a protracted government-wide shutdown might be able to wear O down and wring some concession out of him on immigration, but since Republicans invariably end up being blamed for shutdowns and since they’re desperate not to do anything to spook swing voters given how fragile their majority will be in 2016, they went into this resolved not to stand firm if challenged. This whole cromnibus/DHS/amnesty strategy was essentially just a pander to grassroots conservatives, to put Democrats through their paces of filibustering GOP efforts to repeal amnesty so that Boehner and McConnell could say to the base, “hey, we tried.” Is it worth forcing them to do that anymore? I realize if they hadn’t done it, if they’d caved right from the beginning, they’d be eating tons of crap from border hawks screaming, “You didn’t even try!” But why do that to them when we know the outcome in advance? They don’t have the numbers in the Senate and the White House to get things passed and they’re obviously unwilling to use the power of the purse if it means a politically damaging shutdown. Which means, effectively, they have no leverage at all. Why continue to demand these elaborate pantomimes to the contrary?

Just to ram home the point that the majority’s powerless, McConnell’s going to bring the House bill to the Senate floor for a fourth time today, where it’ll be filibustered by Democrats for a fourth time. That’s the other remaining option for the GOP — nuke the filibuster, pass the House bill with 51 votes, and force Obama to hold up DHS funding on his own by issuing a veto. Lots of smart conservatives like Philip Klein and Fred Bauer have argued recently that nuking the filibuster would be nuts. It’s a crucial brake on big government, getting rid of it won’t achieve anything right now — Obama won’t budge from vetoing a bill that would undo the biggest “achievement” of his second term — and it’ll be exploited by Democrats if/when they reclaim the Senate majority in 2016. Right, but remember that the GOP will almost certainly have a stranglehold on the House until 2020 at a minimum; there’s near-zero chance until the next decade that President Hillary and Senate Dems will be able to enact any legislation on their own, even with a 51-vote majority in the Senate. If anyone has a chance of benefiting from a filibuster-less Senate in the short term (say, the next five years), it’s the GOP. And while it’s true that the filibuster is a useful brake on the federal leviathan, that’s usually but not always a good thing. If the day ever comes where Republicans are ready and willing to reform Medicare, they’ll almost certainly have to do it with fewer than 60 votes. Would you rather dump the filibuster when that moment arrives, when it’ll be cited by screeching liberals as an outrageous changing of the rules mid-stream to advance the GOP’s “kill grandma” agenda, or do it now and have it fully legitimized by the time entitlement reform becomes politically viable?

Nah, just kidding. Entitlement reform will never be politically viable.

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