Early last month, after the election but before President Obama followed through on his promise to take unilateral action on deportations, John Boehner issued a stern warning. “When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself,” Boehner said. “And he's going to burn himself if he continues to go down this path.” The president was, obviously, not cowed by the speaker’s threat, but one could argue that Boehner wasn’t actually speaking to him, but instead reassuring the anti-immigration reform conservatives in the House GOP that any unilateral action by the White House would be met with a harsh response from Congress.
Well, now we’re getting a feel for what Boehner has in mind: lots of angry complaining, little substantive action to block the president on immigration.
According to Politico, Boehner and the House leadership are pushing for a plan to fully fund most of the government until September of next year, but “only supply monies to the Department of Homeland Security until March.” This bill – known as the, ugh, “Cromnibus” – would be paired with a separate symbolic resolution that is “designed to give Republicans an opportunity to express displeasure with the White House’s move on immigration.”
So, basically, fund the government, avoid a shutdown (for now), and give conservatives a chance to be loudly anti-Obama and anti-immigration reform as they look forward to another funding fight in the Spring. Boehner insists that no decisions have been made as to how the House will proceed (government funding runs out on December 11, so the clock’s ticking) but this plan seems to be emerging as the odds-on favorite.
The fight over Obama’s immigration action isn’t really over what the Republicans can do to stop Obama, but what they can do to stop their own members from indulging in self-destructive behavior. The House GOP leadership fully recognizes that there isn’t much they can do to put the brakes on Obama’s actions. But they can’t just throw in the towel, nor can they allow conservatives in the House Republican caucus to provoke another shutdown fight. The “Cromnibus,” paired with the finger-wagging resolution, gives them a way out of this bind and buys them some time to either let the issue die down, or to figure out a plan for how to confront it later on.
That’s not to say it’s an ideal plan – far from it, in fact. If they do decide to take the “Cromnibus” route, Boehner and the leadership are going to have to work very hard to make sure they have the votes to pass it. The Democrats in the House have already said that they’re not going to help Boehner pass any hybrid funding bills, and Boehner’s already had one immigration bill derailed this year by restive conservatives. The “Cromnibus” would also have to pass the Senate, and the Democrats who remain in (temporary) control of that chamber have indicated they will oppose any plan that doesn’t include long-term funding for Homeland Security. And, of course, they’d also have to get Obama to sign off on the scheme. Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson said this morning that he opposes short-term funding for DHS, so it's safe to assume the president isn't on board.
And if Senate Democrats or the president refuse to go along with Boehner’s plan, it’s difficult to see where he goes from there. Everything the Republican leadership has done to this point has been designed to avoid a shutdown fight. Fresh off their big electoral victory, they’re determined to show they can “govern” and Boehner himself wants to remembered as something other than the speaker who shut down the government. He knows they’ll be blamed for a shutdown, and the pressure to just pass a clean funding bill will be enormous.