House Republicans floated a plan Tuesday to fund most of the government through the end of the fiscal year but only temporarily fund the Homeland Security Department—a strategy that appears to have divided Capitol Hill's top two Democratic leaders.
Speaker John Boehner told the GOP Conference in a closed-door meeting that the House will vote on an omnibus bill that would fund the government through September but fund DHS only through March. The plan, which had been floated for weeks, would give the House another opportunity to confront President Obama on immigration funding early next year.
At the same time, the House will vote on a separate bill from Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida stating that the president does not have the authority to shelter undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters Tuesday that the Senate would consider a spending package that only funds DHS through March, as long as the legislation did not include any additional riders that are unacceptable to his party. Reid called a potential deal on such a package an "accomplishment." And although Reid said it was "a shame" that Republicans in the House were considering such a strategy, he added: "I understand why they're doing it."
That statement contrasts with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's views on the matter. "We will not be enablers to a Republican government shutdown, partial or otherwise," Pelosi said last week, though Reid's comments may now give cover to House Democrats who would prefer to support the GOP's proposed spending measure.
Boehner declined to announce the plan publicly at a press conference directly after the private meeting; rather, he noted that he is looking at "a variety of options, both for right now and when Republicans control both houses of the Congress next year."
"This is a serious breach of our Constitution," Boehner said of Obama's immigration order. "It's a serious threat to our system of government. And frankly, we have limited options and limited ability to deal with it directly. But that's why we're continuing to talk to our members. We've not made decisions about how we're going to proceed, but we are, in fact, going to proceed."
Despite pressure from outside groups, such as Heritage Action, he noted that most of his members understand that blocking the president's order will be easier next year when Republicans also control the Senate.
It is unclear whether the plan being discussed has support from enough members in the conference. Some members at the meeting raised the idea of also temporarily funding other agencies involved in immigration, such as the Justice Department. Boehner's strategy would need strong GOP support if House Democrats band together to oppose it.
Rep. Nita Lowey, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said Tuesday it would be "dangerous and irresponsible to engage in stunts and gimmicks affecting funding for the agencies under the Department of Homeland Security."¦ This is no way to run a government. We should proceed with negotiations and develop a full omnibus."
The Obama administration similarly dislikes the idea. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testified at a House hearing Tuesday morning that temporary funding would make it harder to run his department effectively.
Rep. Dennis Ross, a member of the GOP whip team, said Republicans had "learned from what happened last time" the party had a spending showdown with Obama, and they want to avoid another government shutdown.
Ross was skeptical that his party's plan would attract Democratic votes but expressed confidence most Republicans would unite behind it. Party conservatives, Ross said, "want to vote for it, but they're wrestling with what the details are going to be."
Yet within an hour after leaders floated the plan, members began to push back. At a periodic roundtable of conservative-minded members, several lawmakers said they would rather vote for an appropriations bill that limits funding to carry out the president's immigration action, and if the Senate does not accept it, a short-term continuing resolution that would fund the entire government through January or February.
"The voters understand that the cavalry is coming," Rep. Jim Jordan said. "Why in the world would you want to extend a CR, a funding bill, for several months out? Why not wait for those people to get here?"
Rep. Mo Brooks also said there was still considerable disagreement over how the GOP should move forward.
Before the meeting with Boehner, some of the GOP's border hawks gathered to formulate their own options. Brooks said there was enough dissent to "influence the outcome of what the House does." Brooks said he was not "optimistic" that Boehner was going to move on a strong enough plan to satisfy the conservative members of the conference.
Democrats continued to reject Boehner's plan as well. Rep. David Price, ranking member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, said a full omnibus would include roughly $150 million in new funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement that would be foregone if Congress passed a temporary measure.
"It looks like the very definition of cutting off your nose to spite your face," he said. "It does have the potential to wreck the omnibus bill. It also has the potential to damage the very thing Republicans want to support, which is immigration enforcement."
Yoho, meanwhile, told reporters Tuesday that his bill to express dissatisfaction with the president could be more than a "symbolic" message if the Senate took it up, though that is exceedingly unlikely.
Yoho says he approached leadership before Thanksgiving last week to seek their support. While Yoho is not a natural ally for leadership and is typically seen as part of the "hell no" caucus, leaders were open to this bill, as it might assuage some more-conservative members who wanted to wage an immediate funding fight.
"My hat's off to the leadership," Yoho said. "I commend leadership for saying, 'You know what, this sounds like a commonsense bill.' "
This article was updated Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 2.
Rachel Roubein contributed to this article
Daniel Newhauser is a staff correspondent for National Journal, where he primarily covers the House of Representatives. He was formerly a House leadership reporter for Roll Call, where he started as an intern in 2010 and quickly earned a slot as a beat reporter.
A native of San Antonio, Texas, Newhauser traveled further West to study journalism at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and write for newspapers including the East Valley Tribune and the Green Valley News & Sun.