(Bloomberg) — U.S. House Republicans are close to doing what just weeks ago seemed unthinkable: take the threat of a partial government shutdown this month off the table with time to spare.
Credit a plan hatched by House Speaker John Boehner and his lieutenants to let Republicans vent their anger over President Barack Obama’s immigration orders while working with Democrats to renew most government spending through September 2015.
Lawmakers of both parties said they’re open to the Boehner-backed, two-step approach. In step one, the House would cast a symbolic vote against Obama’s orders easing deportations. Step two would see both chambers pass a separate bill to fund almost all of the federal government.
“There’s no danger of shutdown,” said Louisiana Representative John Fleming, who said yesterday he could support the proposal with changes in timing. He was among Republicans who backed a drive in 2013 to defund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), leading to a 16-day partial shutdown over “Obamacare”and a drop in Republican public approval.
The strategy would be a victory for Boehner’s ability to control the Tea Party wing of his conference after the November election. Republican insistence on using a government funding bill to challenge Obama’s immigration orders would be unlikely to pass the Democratic-led Senate.
Even if it did, Obama has said he would veto legislation that would block his immigration orders. Congress must pass funding legislation by Dec. 11 or risk a partial government shutdown.
Obama said today he was encouraged by statements from Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell about preventing another shutdown, “and I take them at their word.”
“The one thing I can say for certain is that no one benefits by the government shutting down,” the president told members of the Business Roundtable in Washington.
Still, some Republicans in Congress oppose Boehner’s plan, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who said passing a symbolic bill against the deportation orders would be a “meaningless show vote.”
Cruz, who led the drive for the 2013 shutdown, said today that Congress should pass a short-term spending bill that would add language blocking Obama’s immigration orders to funding for the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice.
Speaking today at a news conference with about a dozen other Republicans who back that strategy, Cruz said the Senate also should block confirmations for all non-national security presidential appointments.
Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican and co-founder of the chamber’s Tea Party caucus, joined with Cruz in calling for the House to pass a short-term funding bill that blocks implementation of Obama’s immigration orders.
“The American people deserve to know where members of Congress stand on this issue,” Lee said in an e-mailed statement. ‘The power of the purse is one of the tools Congress has to rein in an out-of-control executive.’’
Boehner of Ohio told reporters yesterday that Republicans “have limited options and limited abilities” to act directly on immigration. He said lawmakers are considering “a variety of options” for action this month and next year.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid signaled he’d be open to the approach if Republican leaders can gather enough House votes to advance it. It would be a “big accomplishment” to fund most of the government for the rest of the fiscal year, said the Nevada Democrat.
Reid said the Senate won’t take up the other House bill, which would deny the president authority to protect undocumented immigrants in the U.S. from deportation.
Boehner’s plan is designed to avert a shutdown, restore the process of passing annual spending bills and let Republicans reopen the debate over immigration next year when they control both chambers. The Department of Homeland Security, with primary responsibility for immigration policy, would be funded only into March 2015.
The plan would give Republicans more time next year to vote on other priorities, including ending a medical-device tax that helps fund Obamacare, approving the Keystone oil pipeline and strengthening Obama’s trade negotiating ability.
The air of compromise contrasts with 2013, when at least 80 House Republicans signed a letter demanding to attach language defunding Obamacare to a government spending bill.
The Boehner proposal “is getting a good response,” said Representative Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
“The mood is different,” Rogers said.
He said lawmakers learned in last month’s congressional election, in which Republicans gained seats in both chambers, that voters “want this place to operate, to get business done.”
Obama announced Nov. 20 that he would temporarily halt deportations for about 5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. His directive will defer for three years the deportation of people who came to the U.S. as children as well as parents of children who are citizens or legal permanent residents.
The Department of Homeland Security will streamline the visa process for foreign workers and their employers and give high-skilled workers more flexible work authorization.
Some House Republicans were critical of the proposal, including Representative Raul Labrador of Idaho. He said Republicans would be “capitulating” if they didn’t insist on imposing limits on Obama’s immigration plan as part of a spending bill.
After Republicans take control of the Senate in January, Congress could fight the immigration order using a Department of Homeland Security funding bill. That debate would also be an opportunity for Republicans to advance measures to bolster border security and expand high-tech visas.
While House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has threatened to withhold Democratic votes for a partial spending measure, second-ranking Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland hasn’t taken a position on it.
Even if lawmakers agree in principle on the proposal, disagreements between Republicans and Democrats over environment and tax policy provisions still could derail it.
Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho said the proposals include blocking the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and barring the EPA from regulating small bodies of water.
The House also has proposed limiting the Internal Revenue Service’s ability to impose tax penalties under PPACA.
While Obama’s actions on immigration amount to the most significant changes in a generation, they don’t go as far as the legislation that passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote in June 2013 and stalled in the House.
The Senate bill would create a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants now in the U.S. Hoyer and other members of his party have said they hope Obama’s move will force Congress into acting on legislation.
–With assistance from Angela Greiling Keane and Kathleen Hunter in Washington.