GOP to offer amendment blocking executive amnesty in January

Republicans will try to make up with conservatives irate over the passage of the “cromnibus” with a new measure in January, one that will take aim at Barack Obama’s unilateral action on immigration.  House Rules Committee chair Pete Sessions announced yesterday that GOP leadership has committed to an amendment to block implementation of Obama’s plan in the first two weeks of the new Congress. The only question, Roll Call reports, is to which bill it can be attached:

Rules Chairman Pete Sessions said during a panel hearing on the “cromnibus” Wednesday that Republicans plan to bring up legislation similar to an amendment offered by Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina that would prohibit the president from carrying out his immigration action.“Mr. Mulvaney has given us an amendment that works perfectly well,” Sessions said, saying he will “guarantee” that the Rules Committee, “in the new Congress, in the first two weeks,” would have a meeting to put that legislation on the House floor.

Sessions said he believed those in the country posed a threat to national security, and that the “rule of law” must be upheld. But he made it clear that the Rules Committee did not intend to have a fight over the president’s executive action in the cromnibus, thus effectively saying the amendment would not be made in order.

GOP leadership is trying to present the argument that the best chance for success is after the new Congress is sworn in. “We should not put a government shutdown on the table when Republicans have minimal leverage to change this law, particularly when Republican control of the Senate is a month away,” Sessions said.

Sessions argued that the time for action would be when Republicans control both chambers of Congress, and not just the House. That does make some sense; Harry Reid would probably have blocked a bill that took aim at Obama’s program. Had the cromnibus contained that rider, we certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed the spectacle of Barack Obama finally coming out of semi-retirement to take on Nancy Pelosi and whip enough votes to get the spending bill passed, or of Maxine Waters accusing him of attempting to intimidate Democrats.

The cromnibus would likely have died in the House with the rider anyway. Boehner didn’t have the votes to pass it because of the punt on executive amnesty, but even more so for the lack of spending cuts from the current budget trajectory:

But the spending bill’s shortcomings far outweigh its benefits, as far as several conservative groups are concerned. Both Heritage Action and Club for Growth, two key conservative advocacy organizations, have campaigned against the $1.01 trillion bill for its lack of spending cuts, and failure to defund both the president’s immigration order and the Affordable Care Act.

From a conservative standpoint, this amounts to a betrayal (as exemplified by right-wing news site Drudge Report’s lead headline from earlier this week).

“Christmas has come early for the big spenders in Congress who have been experiencing long-term withdrawal from the earmark ban,” the Club for Growth said in a statement urging its members to vote against the bill.

The GOP still only has a small majority in the House, so even with the amendment Sessions envisions, opposition from fiscal conservatives would have doomed the bill, as no Democrats would have cast a vote for it. The rule vote made that painfully clear to everyone. The proper way to deal with that situation would have been to pass a clean 90-day CR to give Republicans the leverage in 2015, without the Wall Street-sponsored rule change on banks trading in derivatives that Democratic donor and JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon personally lobbied to get passed last night. Democrats would have traded away their leverage, but it also would have prevented the civil war that erupted between them and the White House yesterday — and Republicans could have budgeted for the rest of FY2015 in the new year with majorities in both chambers.

So why didn’t they do so? Boehner apparently wants to focus on stopping Obama’s immigration plans, and can now turn all attention to the DHS budget to do so. A 90-day CR would have let Boehner do that too, but it would have forced a fully Republican Congress to produce another massive omnibus bill at the same time. The cromnibus clears the decks for a normal-order budget for FY2016, which would be the first since 2009 and would eliminate the kind of fiscal cliffs that have created the need for these travesties — let’s call them omnitrocities. If Boehner follows through on normal order and the much higher level of transparency it provides, then perhaps the cromnibus deal will have been worth it if those budgets start addressing ridiculous spending levels — and cuts off Obama’s executive fiats at the knees.

So getting back to the original question, to which bill will Republicans attach the amendment Sessions pledges will be forthcoming? The obvious choice is the Homeland Security appropriations bill, which has to fund the agency from February 28th to September 30th. That’s a must-sign piece of legislation, and it’s the hostage that Boehner did keep in this deal to fund the rest of the government. Obama can refuse to sign the bill, but then he has to take responsibility for the risks that entails.

There is actually plenty of time to attack Obama’s unilateral action, because Obama left plenty of time for Republicans to do so. The White House is still a few months off from being able to take applications, let alone process them and start issuing work permits. That’s both a nod to reality — issuing work permits isn’t a “shovel ready job” — and an opening for Republicans in the new Congress to work on a comprehensive immigration reform package. It’s also an opportunity to cut off funding for the permits. It’s difficult to defund the lack of action in “prosecutorial discretion,” but much easier to prohibit the use of funds for particular and specific actions, and the work permits make a good target.

We’ll see how Boehner decides to proceed, but having given away a large level of concessions this week on budgeting, he’d better show some fight in January on Obama’s unilateral immigration action. The field is set for it, so there will be no excuse for a lack of follow-through.