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A Government Funding Fight Is Coming. Will It Be Small or Big?

Getty Images/Alex Wong

The 113th Congress is scheduled to recess for the final time on December 11 and they have a few big items still to address. Among them are a collection of expiring tax breaks known as the tax extenders and the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which allows the government to share in the insurance costs stemming from terrorist attacks and will also expire at the end of this year. But their most important task will be passing a bill that funds the government.

As usual, there’s going to be a little drama.

The House GOP is meeting today to decide on their legislative strategy. Conservatives are pushing GOP leaders to use the government funding process to block Obama’s executive action on immigration. But figuring out how to use the power of the purse to stymie the president has proven difficult. Conservatives originally pushed for an omnibus spending bill—a package of appropriations bills that can pass each chamber with one vote—that would prohibit the use of funds on Obama’s executive action. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama would never have accepted such a restriction. That would have set up a showdown and, most likely, some kind of government shutdown.

Republican leaders, mindful that the last shutdown didn’t turn out so well, have floated a different idea—passing an omnibus bill that would fund most of the government through the rest of the fiscal year, but extending funding for the Department of Homeland Security only until early 2015. DHS is the cabinet agency that handles immigration, so this, in theory, would be a way to target those funds specifically. The plan—nicknamed the CRomnibus because it combines an omnibus bill and a continuing resolution (CR)—would avoid the political consequences of a full government shutdown while placating the House GOP’s conservative members. It would also set up a much smaller funding fight in a few months.

There’s just one problem. Republicans can’t pass the CRomnibus on their own. They need Democratic support in the Senate, in order to get past a filibuster, and possibly in the House if Speaker John Boehner loses too many votes from conservatives who would find such a strategy too timid. But Democratic support may not be forthcoming, since Democrats want an omnibus bill that funds the government for the remainder of the fiscal year. In that situation, Congress may resort to yet another continuing resolution to fund the entire government for a few months. It’s hard to imagine Democrats rejecting a short-term funding bill and it may appease Republicans, who will control both chambers of Congress next year.

Republican leaders seem genuinely interested in avoiding a funding fight early next year, so that they can set a new, responsible tone to start the 114th Congress. But, as we’ve seen over the last few years, Republican leaders don’t have great control over their caucus. Given conservative anger over Obama’s executive action—and their belief  that he has violated his oath of office and undermined American democracy—a funding fight looks unavoidable. The questions are when will it happen and what are the stakes. We should find out those answers soon.

Danny Vinik

News from Monday:

POLICE: President Obama intends to tighten the standards on when military gear can be used by police officers. The White House also announced a $263 million program to provide up to 50,000 body cameras. (Mark Landler, New York Times)

FERGUSON: Protests continued in Ferguson and across the country Monday, a week after the grand jury announced that Officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for the shooting death of Michael Brown. (Monica Davey and Jess Bidgood, New York Times)

RACE: In an interview with Vulture, Chris Rock argued that the election of a black president was not indicative of black progress, but white progress. Christopher Ingraham provides stats to back that up—and shows how far we have to go. (Wonkblog)

Articles we’re reading:

The right-wing war against the reality press: Dave Weigel on a conservative's campaign to silence reporters on the ground in Ferguson. (Bloomberg)

The science of racial prejudice: Chris Mooney takes a tour through the scientific literature on racial prejudice and how people can use this understanding to minimize racism. (Mother Jones)

Officer Wilson's story doesn't add up: Josh Marshall goes through Wilson's testimony and finds much of it hard to believe. (TPM)

Explaining the Eurozone: In the U.S., politicians are committed to raising worker wages, even if they don’t always have the ideas to do so. In Germany, politicians actually tout weak wage growth.  (Matt Yglesias, Vox)

Why Medicaid is so important: Noam Levey, one of the best health care writers in the country, uses Arizona as a case study to show what a huge difference the embattled program makes to the people who have access to it. (Los Angeles Times)

What we’re watching:

Republicans' meeting to decide their legislative strategy


Danny Vinik writes that Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales data is meaningless. Brian Beutler and Jonathan Cohn weigh in on the mini-scandal surrounding the GOP staffer who criticized Sasha and Malia Obama. Jonathan wonders if her apology should have been enough, instead of a resignation. Brian explains that the staffer was not a victim of the liberal media.

Clips compiled by Claire Groden and Naomi Shavin.