Immigration could set stage for U.S. budget showdown
WASHINGTON — Conservatives in Congress who object to President Barack Obama’s immigration policies are threatening to tie a must-pass budget bill to the issue, making for a possible showdown in September and raising the specter of a government shutdown.
White House-Congress tensions rose on Wednesday when Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said the president’s upcoming decision on steps to possibly ease some immigration rules would not be affected by Republican tactics.
“The president is determined to act where House Republicans won’t,” Earnest said, citing support from the business community, religious leaders, labor unions and law enforcement. “It would be a real shame if Republicans were to engage in an effort to shut down the government over a commonsense solution (on immigration).”
When lawmakers return from their summer recess on Sept. 8, they hope to sprint to another long break beginning around Sept. 19. That gives them little time to agree on temporarily funding federal agencies on Oct. 1, the start of a new fiscal year.
One year ago, Congress faced a similar task. But Republican leaders’ plans for smooth passage of legislation disintegrated when tea party-backed lawmakers led by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas insisted on using the spending bill to gut Obama’s landmark health care program known as Obamacare.
Federal agencies were shut down for 16 days because of a lack of funds, before a bruised Republican Party relented.Now, with partisanship running high ahead of November’s congressional elections, infighting over the spending bill — known as the continuing resolution, or CR — could become even more acute.
In part, that is because Congress left for recess unable to cut a deal on Obama’s request for emergency funds, which he said were needed to deal with an influx of Central American children illegally entering the country.
A spokeswoman for the White House budget office said the administration urges Congress to act on that request. Since most Republicans are opposed, it could spark a battle over the bigger bill to keep the government operating.
That would be nothing compared to the fight Obama could touch off in September if he announces unilateral actions giving temporary legal status and work permits to millions of undocumented residents.
Such a move could prompt some Republicans to retaliate by holding up the government-funding bill unless it prohibits Obama from carrying out immigration policy changes — a step Senate Democrats likely would oppose.
Obama has said he will use his executive powers at the end of summer because Republicans have blocked changes to an antiquated, unworkable U.S. immigration law.