WASHINGTON — The brinkmanship over Homeland Security funding serves as a rude awakening for Republican leaders: Crisis governing may be here to stay despite their high hopes of starting a new chapter this year.
The Republican-led House and Senate were operating on separate tracks on Friday morning with just over 12 hours to go before a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security.
The Senate was set to pass a DHS funding bill through September without the immigration restrictions that conservatives have demanded. But the House rejected that approach and moved toward passing a three-week stopgap measure to punt the fight to March 19, in the hope of taking down President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
With House Republicans refusing to surrender just yet, the Senate is likely to pass the stopgap bill and prolong the fight. But even many Republicans admit that a “clean” DHS funding bill is inevitable, given implacable Senate Democratic filibusters and a White House veto threat against any bill that blocks his moves to shield more than 4 million people from deportation.
“I’ve had it with this self-righteous delusional wing of the party that leads us over the cliff,” Rep. Peter King (R-NY) said on Twitter.
It is a classic strategy by Speaker John Boehner: March with his ultraconservative wing (which is furious over Obama’s immigration policies) right up to the edge of the cliff, endorsing their various battle plans and letting them slowly realize that none of them are politically feasible.
And it sets the tone for the rest of the year, imperiling the hopes of Boehner and new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to move past the futile battles of the past and lock in some substantial achievements.
Many other potential cliffs lie ahead. After the (presumably) new March 19 deadline to fund DHS, the next legislative cliff involves the “doc fix” — action required by March 31 to prevent a 21 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements to physicians. Then there’s the need to raise the debt ceiling before the fall, keep the highway trust fund solvent by May 31 and avoid a shutdown of the full government when money expires for all departments on September 30.
So far the only conservative item that the new Congress has passed is a bill to force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which was vetoed by Obama this week.
House conservatives’ discontent stems from their desire to use their new majorities to confront Obama and pass sweeping legislation that reflects their principles, now that Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) no longer runs the Senate. But Senate Democrats and the White House have made clear they will fight with their filibuster and veto powers, respectively, to protect their policy gains in the Obama era.
“This is what sets up the next two years,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) said of the DHS fight. “If we’re gonna let Harry Reid dictate what the House can pass and can do now, then for the next 22 months that’s what we’ll expect, which would be very disappointing for conservatives.”
Boehner, too, appears to know what he’s in for.
“The House, by nature and by design,” he said Thursday, “is a hell of a lot more rambunctious place than the Senate.”