Congressional Republicans said Friday that they might create a series of showdowns over funding the government to try to force President Obama to back down on his expected plans to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.
Instead of passing a spending bill in the coming days that would fund the government through the end of the fiscal year, Republicans are considering a short-term measure that would expire early next year, according to more than a dozen top lawmakers and their aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
When Congress reconvenes in the new year, Republicans would then pass other short-term bills, each designed to create a forum to push back against the president and, possibly, gain concessions. Republicans also are planning to file a lawsuit against the president over his use of executive authority, according to the lawmakers and aides.
The efforts are seen by Republicans as ways to pressure Obama to relent and pull back his expected executive orders to change immigration policy, which are likely to include protecting millions from being deported.
Asked whether the threat of budget conflicts would have any effect on the president’s thinking, the White House referred to comments Obama made on immigration Friday in Burma, where he said Congress has had ample time to act on immigration reform.
Obama said he stands by his statement that if Congress failed to act, “I would use all the lawful authority that I possess to try to make the system work better. And that’s going to happen. That’s going to happen before the end of the year.”
Republican leaders also see a short-term funding measure as a way to placate conservatives within their ranks, who have urged an aggressive response against what they see as an unconstitutional overreach by the president.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who has been a longtime critic of the House GOP leaders, encouraged them to pursue the short-term spending bills for as long as possible until the president changes course.
“We cannot allow this to be implemented,” King said. “I would like to do the minimum necessary and follow the Constitution. I would not take a shutdown off the table.”
King said House conservatives spent Friday “gathering together and having little meetings.” He expressed optimism that he could nudge them in his direction, much as he did over the summer when he worked with the leadership to rewrite a GOP bill on border policy at the eleventh hour.
King also told reporters that his staff is in contact with advisers to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to present a united front to leaders in both chambers. Sessions, the incoming chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, has been leading the Senate bloc that has backed using the budget and other procedural means to dissent.
A succession of short-term spending bills would be a reversal from what House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and future Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have said they planned to do.
Over the course of meetings in recent days — including a Thursday lunch over cold cuts in Boehner’s Capitol suite — House leaders have been unenthusiastic about the idea of a short-term spending plan and have not given up on a budget that runs through the end of the fiscal year in September.
But if Obama takes action on immigration and the politics surrounding that issue erupt, House leaders and their associates have begun to conclude that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to rally their caucus behind a long-term bill, given that conservatives see the budget process as their best leverage with the president.
Determined not to shut down the government again, Republican leaders think short-term measures could be the best way to address both the ire within their caucus and their desire to show the American people they can govern.
When asked about the possibility of a short-term spending bill becoming the party line if the president acts, Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky.), the House Appropriations Committee chairman, said he would be “disappointed.” His office said he continues to meet with members, arguing about the necessity of passing long-term appropriation packages.
“At this point, we are talking with members and developing options in case President Obama takes unilateral executive action — action he himself has long argued exceeds his constitutional authority,” said Michael Steel, a Boehner spokesman.
On the Senate side, Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, said that “legislation is still under development.”
By promising not to shut down the government, the GOP may be undercutting the strategy behind the use of short-term bills. The main leverage behind such maneuvers is the possibility of a shutdown. Removing that possibility could give Democrats little incentive to make a deal.
Boehner’s lieutenants inside the House said Friday that they worried that a spending confrontation could end up dividing Republican ranks, even if it wins initial applause.
If you don’t pass a long-term budget, “the question remains, ‘What’s the backup plan?’ ” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said. “If you can come up with a backup plan with some semblance of making any sense, that’s fine. But you take a big risk of being in a [short-term budget situation], which is what the Obama administration wants.”
Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a leading advocate of the president using executive power to protect illegal immigrants, said Friday that regardless of what the Republicans are crafting as their rebuttal, he expects the president to follow through and ignore the calls from Republicans to stand down.
“We know it’s going to be before the end of the year,” he said. “It appears as if all the recommendations have been made. . . . They’re on his desk.”
Gutierrez added: “It is a question I have been told, by the best and highest sources, simply of scheduling.”