WASHINGTON – House Speaker John A. Boehner, who has pleaded with fellow Republicans to avoid a contentious government shutdown fight, appeared to win support on Tuesday for a plan that would allow members of his party to vent anger at President Obama while keeping the government open beyond next week.
Republican leaders, eager to consolidate their election victory as they take control of the Senate next month, are hoping to avoid the drama over fiscal deadlines that had hurt the party politically in recent years and threatened the economy.
Republican House members nonetheless found themselves in a familiar place Tuesday: huddling in the basement of the Capitol, with some representatives refusing to rule out a shutdown in retaliation for Obama’s decision to unilaterally soften immigration enforcement. But most House Republicans seemed to side with Boehner, leaving the fight for another day.
“I think they understand that it will be difficult to take meaningful action as long as we’ve got Democrats who control the Senate,” Boehner said after the closed-door meeting.
The challenge Boehner faces in keeping the government open is a reminder of how tough his job remains, even as his party gained power in the November elections. Funding for the government expires Dec. 11.
“He has a test every day,” said Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and close supporter of Boehner as he left Tuesday’s meeting. “But he passes it every day, or he wouldn’t be speaker.”
The plan endorsed by Boehner would fund most of the government until September. But it would use a stopgap measure to fund the Department of Homeland Security only through March, setting up a fight next year over the agency that enforces immigration policy.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said he had been speaking with Republican leaders and believes Boehner’s approach could be a “big accomplishment.” He said he would need to review details before signing off, but was far more conciliatory with Republicans than he has been during previous budget standoffs.
House Republicans are also planning to vote on a measure that would express disapproval with Obama’s actions, but even the most optimistic among them conceded that it would not pass the Senate, which remains Democratic until the new session begins next month. Nor would it be signed by the president himself. Boehner urged patience from House Republicans until next month, when Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell takes over as majority leader, after the newly elected GOP majority is sworn in.
Still, some hard-liners remained dissatisfied and were hoping to provoke an immediate fight, insisting it would end differently than the 2013 shutdown over Obama’s health care law. The shutdown proved largely unpopular with the public.
Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican, said a well-tailored funding bill designed to strip money from Obama’s plans to protect almost 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation could force the president to be held responsible for a shutdown if it led to that.
“We fund everything else, and then the president has to argue that he’s going to shut down the government in order for him to carry out his lawless, unconstitutional act,” King said.
The energy it is taking to craft essential legislation in the final weeks of the year has probably scuttled attempts to do anything more ambitious before Congress adjourns later this month.
A bipartisan deal to alter the tax code will probably be replaced by a stopgap measure designed to preserve longstanding tax breaks for a single year, 2014. The tax breaks cover a wide range, including a deduction used by businesses for research and development.
Republicans, who plan to vote on the stopgap measure Wednesday, were eager to put blame on Obama for killing the bigger $440 billion deal that would have made many of those deductions permanent. He threatened to veto the package of tax changes, saying they were weighted too heavily for big business, even though they were negotiated by Reid and other Democrats.
“The president killed them. Period,” Boehner said Tuesday.
Democrats had yet to commit to the Republican bill.
Many in Congress had also hoped to debate a war resolution. Instead, lawmakers are likely to pass more stopgap measures to renew funding for rebels in Syria.
Congress is also under pressure to finish approving a bill to set the military’s spending priorities for the next year.
Despite the large to-do list, Senate Democrats have been spending much of their time trying to win approval for presidential nominees before the Republican takeover.
Reid said there would not be enough hours to confirm all 130 pending nominations. The Senate spent time on Monday and Tuesday on two political appointees for ambassadorships who were more controversial.
Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, mocked the appointment of Colleen Bell, a Hollywood producer who raised at least $2.1 million for Obama in 2012, according to the New York Times.
McCain argued on the Senate floor that the position, ambassador to Hungary, is too strategically important for a political appointee.
Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, said that Bell is highly qualified and that McCain and others have often supported political appointees to lead embassies.
Bell was approved on a near party-line vote, 52 to 42.
Noah Bierman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @noahbierman.