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Less than 2 Weeks to Shutdown, Conservatives Cool to 'Cromnibus'

Jordan and other conservatives are digging in their heels on the so-called cromnibus. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As House Republicans sort out how they will fund the government past Dec. 11, leadership is running into a problem: Many conservatives looking to block President Barack Obama’s immigration plan contend the House must act now rather than wait until later.  

That’s a more confrontational approach than the “cromnibus” proposal floated by GOP leaders Tuesday morning. The cromnibus — a portmanteau of continuing resolution and omnibus — would incorporate 11 of the 12 appropriations bills in the House, funding operations through the end of the fiscal year in September, and couple that package with a temporary CR for Homeland Security operations, likely to extend to March.  

Homeland Security houses the agencies where the bulk of the executive action implementation is expected to take place.  

GOP leaders argue the cromnibus is the best way to keep the government open while ensuring a fight later on the immigration executive actions — once all of Capitol Hill is under Republican control.  

They also point to a “sweetener” of sorts, a chance to vote as early as Thursday on legislation that’s been introduced by Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., to “disapprove” of Obama’s immigration actions. But it might not be enough for many of the president’s staunchest opponents in Congress.  

At Tuesday’s monthly “Conversations with Conservatives” get-together, Republicans said the idea of asking members to vote for any spending bill that funds the president’s executive order — even on a short-term basis — is tough to swallow.  

“I think that the real answer to the question becomes how many people are willing to go with a cromnibus without limitation language, and I don’t think there are the votes there,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said.  

Members noted leadership hadn’t made any concrete decisions or produced final language, but none of the lawmakers attending the Heritage Foundation event seemed willing to go along with a bill that didn’t stop the president immediately.  

“I don’t think you fund any unconstitutional action,” Rep. Joe L. Barton, R-Texas, said. “Constitutionally, what’s wrong is wrong, and we need to figure out a way to defend that principle.”  

Off the House floor Tuesday, Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona said he believed, “as many of the members do,” that what the president is proposing is unconstitutional. “So you just want me to fund the unconstitutional act for 60 days?” Salmon asked. “Isn’t that kind of like being a little bit pregnant? No, that doesn’t work for me.”  

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., said it made no sense to “punt” spending decisions until October when the president is trying to act on immigration through executive orders. And Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, added that with Republicans set to take the Senate majority in January, “The cavalry is coming.”  

To start, Jordan said, Republicans should put limitations on what the president could do with immigration in a government funding bill by way of a policy rider.  

“And then if Harry Reid and the Senate don’t pass that ... then let’s do something very short term,” Jordan said. “Let’s wait for the majority in the Senate to change.”  

After the conclusion of “Conversations with Conservatives,” Rep. Raúl R. Labrador, R-Idaho didn’t seem bothered by the possibility of the Senate rebuffing a government funding bill if it had language defunding the president’s executive action. “Then you would just do a short-term CR,” he said with a shrug. “And how can they reject that?”  

Labrador said he thought Obama would look like a “hypocrite” if he didn’t sign a CR. “I would think that he would have to sign that, because then he’s the one shutting down the government,” he said.  

Lawmakers unimpressed with the cromnibus scenario did not seem deterred by the fact that it will be difficult to advance an appropriations bill that contains policy riders that are due to be rebuffed by the Democrat-controlled Senate and vetoed by the White House. Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, himself acknowledged that the House’s options on this front were “limited,” even as it remained committed to formulating an effective strategy to fight back against the immigration changes.  

Before conservatives gathered in the Rayburn House Office Building to sound off on the cromnibus, they met in a closed-door, conference-only meeting, where Boehner and other members of GOP leadership laid out their proposal.  

Emerging from that meeting, Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., dismissed the presentation outright. “I did not hear anything in the GOP conference that persuaded me that there is a sincere effort to stop the president’s illegal granting of amnesty to roughly 10 million illegal immigrants,” he said.  

Boehner emphasized at a subsequent news conference that Republicans would continue to discuss their options in the months ahead and that even in the short term no decisions had been made about how to proceed.  

But if the GOP conference splinters on the cromnibus proposal, Boehner might need support from some Democrats to save the bill.  

House Democrats appeared to be keeping their powder dry on Tuesday morning. Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California told reporters that rumblings across the aisle felt reminiscent of the lead-up to the government shutdown last year. “It sounds like the seeds of the same B movie we saw last year are being planted again,” he said, adding that Republicans should not play a “social agenda game” when it comes to funding the government.  

Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Joseph Crowley of New York said Democrats would not support a “partial” shutdown of the government, and Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., said targeting the DHS “was risky business.” None of them would say whether they were prepared to vote “no.”  

At a pen-and-pad briefing with reporters, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said he would wait to determine what he would do until he saw specific language: “I’m not a hard ‘no’ or ‘yes,’” he said, though he said the cromnibus is, generally speaking, “a game” and “not good policy.”  

And House Appropriations ranking member Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., issued a scathing statement on the emerging deal, calling it “dangerous” and “irresponsible” and “no way to run a government.”  

But House Democrats could end up taking their cue on the cromnibus from Obama: On Monday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest wouldn’t preclude the idea of Obama agreeing to a short-term extension of DHS funding, telling reporters the administration would wait and see what house Republicans actually brought to the floor.  

The following day, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also refused to rule out the idea.  

Clark Mindock, Niels Lesniewski, Emily Ethridge and Tamar Hallerman contributed to this report.    

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