Congressional Republicans, having spent months directing blistering criticism at the White House over President Obama’s promise that he would take executive action on immigration reform if Congress doesn’t act, have left themselves no option but to respond forcefully when and if the president makes his move.
The big question is how.
The main problem is that the remedy preferred by the most conservative members of the party is to pass a spending bill that contains language invalidating the president’s actions. It’s an obvious solution because with the current spending authorizations set to expire early next month, a new appropriations bill is one of the few must-pass pieces of legislation standing between Congress and the end of the current session.
Of course, even in the event such a funding bill cleared the Democratically-controlled Senate, Obama would almost certainly veto it, leading to a government shutdown. Past government shutdowns have been political disasters for the GOP, and many of their Congressional leaders are actively seeking ways to avoid that outcome.
Enter House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY), who floated his idea on Tuesday.
Rogers told reporters that he wants Congress to pass an omnibus appropriations bill funding the government for a full year at current levels, thus avoiding a shutdown. In response to the president’s expected action on immigration, he said, when Congress switches to full Republican control in January, lawmakers could pass a bill rescinding the funding for agencies and programs that would carry out whatever executive action the president takes.
“I don't think any of you folks ever saw a rescission bill, have you?” Rogers asked reporters.
Most, clearly, had not. And in fact, many budget and appropriations experts weren’t exactly sure what Rogers was talking about, though they were pretty sure that whatever it was, it wouldn’t work, if only because the President would need to sign off on it.
The problem is that once spending bills are passed and signed by the President, they are law – and laws can’t be changed without a presidential signature.
“I don’t know of any device at the disposal of the Congress that, without the agreement of the president, can change enacted law,” said Joseph Minarik, former chief economist at the Office of Management and Budget, now senior vice president and director of research at the Committee for Economic Development.
Others, though, were more blunt in their assessment of the Rogers plan.
“That wouldn’t work at all,” said Stan Collender, a former House and Senate Budget Committee staffer who is now executive vice president and national director of financial communications for public affairs firm Qorvis MSLGROUP.
Collender said a presidential signature would be require to undo any spending authorization that became law. He suggested that the Rogers proposal sounded less like a plan for addressing the president’s actions on immigration and “more like a method of dealing with the Republican conference.”
In Rogers’ defense, the tactic has been used successfully before. In 1995 and 1996, Congressional Republicans got Democratic President Bill Clinton to sign legislation including rescissions. However, in both cases the funding cuts did not go after programs with as high a political profile as immigration enforcement currently has.
In the end, what Rogers proposes would likely amount to a symbolic condemnation of whatever the president elects to do, but would not stop it. And that’s not sitting well with the far right elements of the Republican Party.
On Tuesday, the rightwing web site Breitbart.com reported that in response to Rogers’ proposal, members of the United Kentucky Tea Party were launching an effort to find a more conservative candidate to challenge Rogers in the 2016 primaries.
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