Reid backing the CRomnibus?

Is this a sign of a civil war between the White House and Democrats on Capitol Hill, or is it a trap for Republicans? The lame-duck session may go better for the GOP than they dared hope after Harry Reid appeared to endorse their budget plans last night. John Boehner has pushed the so-called “CRomnibus,” a full budget for FY2015 for everything but the Department of Homeland Security, which will then have to get funded early in the next session of Congress when Republicans control both the House and Senate. Reid called the plan “a big accomplishment,” even while the White House strenuously opposes the idea:

If the spirit of compromise holds, it could give GOP leaders in the House and Senate what they have long wanted: a chance to “clear the decks” for their new majority in January.

The key issue is the government funding bill, and Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) strategy for avoiding a shutdown and ending the 113th Congress won surprising support Tuesday from Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), who suggested the proposal would be “a big accomplishment.”

Reid’s support makes it much more likely that Boehner’s proposal of a “cromnibus” could become law.

The proposal, which Boehner relayed to his conference in a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, ties 11 appropriations bills funding most of the government through September to a separate, shorter-term continuing resolution (CR) funding the Homeland Security Department through March.

The short-term CR for DHS would allow Republicans to target funding as a means to thwart Barack Obama’s executive amnesty program. Jeh Johnson warned that he couldn’t operate DHS under a short-term funding scheme, but that didn’t seem to be a problem when Reid refused to pass budgets in the Senate from FY2011 to FY2014. The CR would force Obama into a continuous negotiation to get cash for his expansion of work-permit programs on which his executive-action schemes rely.

Why would Reid agree to do that? Obama announced the particulars of his unilateral action in Reid’s back yard to help him out in what will be the fight of his life in 2016. However, Obama has made it pretty clear that he wants to use a scorched-earth strategy over the next two years, and that’s definitely going to give Reid and the few moderate Democrats left a lot of baggage in the next election cycle. Voters made it clear a few weeks ago that they’re fed up with Obama, and at least some Democrats have gotten the message. Even the media has noticed and switched their “civil war” watch from the GOP to the other side of the aisle.

One thing Reid does get out of this some influence on funding for the rest of FY2015. If Congress just passes a short-term CR for the whole budget, then Republicans will control spending decisions for the rest of the fiscal year, and priorities for Congressional Democrats will be irrelevant. Some House conservatives object to the “CRomnibus” on that basis, asking why the GOP would give up its leverage over the whole budget in FY2015 when “the cavalry is coming,” as Rep. Jim Jordan told the Heritage Foundation. That is the price Boehner will pay to get Reid to allow the GOP to go after Obama’s immigration executive order scheme, though, and it might be worth it if the House can effectively cut off DHS from providing funding for it.

Let’s assume, though, that this might be a trap. If it is, it’s a rather strange one. Reid would allow the bill to hit Obama’s desk with bipartisan support, which would make a veto rather uncomfortable for the President. It would isolate the White House and shift blame for any standoff from the House GOP to the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue. Reid could renege when the bill hits the floor, but then he becomes the problem rather than Boehner, and will have to explain that during a campaign against Brian Sandoval in a couple of years.

The collapse of a deal on tax breaks points more to the Democratic-civil-war explanation:

Under the proposal, set for a vote Wednesday in the House, millions of businesses and individual taxpayers would be able to claim long-standing deductions and credits worth $45 billion on their 2014 tax returns. But those perks would expire again Dec. 31, leaving lawmakers to squabble afresh over the matter in the new year.

That outcome favors no one. Democrats would lose a chance to expand favored tax breaks before ceding control of the Senate, and Republicans would have to revisit an issue they had hoped to settle before taking charge.

Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Dave Camp were working on a two-year extension of the tax breaks when Obama announced his plan to act unilaterally on immigration, at which point Reid took over for Wyden. Instead of protecting progressive interests, which Camp had initially seemed ready to do in trade, Reid tried to woo Republicans back into an agreement to avoid what would have been an abrupt and significant tax hike. He’d made the agreement when Obama stepped all over Reid’s efforts:

By last week, they were putting the finishing touches on a vast package worth more than $400 billion over the next decade. It would have made permanent several policies that have long been favored by both parties, including the research credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which provides $2,500 a year toward college tuition.

But with the value of the package tilted heavily toward business — and the provisions for poor families omitted — the White House abruptly threatened to veto the emerging agreement, backed by Wyden and other liberals.

This week, House Republicans responded with their short-term extension, repaying Wyden with a “drafting error” that dropped one of his favored tax breaks — for the purchase of electric motorcycles — from the bill.

Meanwhile, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) pronounced the broader talks dead. “The president killed it. Period,” Boehner told reporters.

This looks much more like a Democratic civil war than a trap, at least one aimed at Boehner. It might be worth doing a “CRomnibus” just to keep those fires stoked alone.