House GOP panel: Defunding immigration order 'impossible'

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It would be “impossible" to defund President Obama’s executive actions on immigration through a government spending bill, the House Appropriations Committee said Thursday.

In a statement released by Committee Chairman Hal Rogers's (R-Ky.) office hours before Obama's scheduled national address, the committee said the primary agency responsible for implementing Obama's actions is funded entirely by user fees. 

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As a result, the committee said the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) agency would be able to continue to collect fees and carry out its operations even if the government shut down.

“This agency is entirely self-funded through the fees it collects on various immigration applications," the committee said in a statement. "Congress does not appropriate funds for any of its operations, including the issuance of immigration status or work permits, with the exception of the ‘E-Verify’ program. Therefore, the appropriations process cannot be used to 'defund' the agency."

A spokesman for Rogers and the panel elaborated on the point in a discussion with reporters. 

“We cannot, literally cannot, defund that agency in an appropriations bill because we don’t appropriate that agency. That agency is entirely fee-funded,” spokeswoman Jennifer Hing said.

“As of right now, our understanding is the primary agency responsible for implementing any type of executive order is CIS and we don’t fund CIS. There are no appropriated dollars,” she added.

Rogers has been outspoken in arguing that Congress should pass an omnibus spending bill in the lame-duck Congress that would keep the government funded through September 2015.

He and GOP leaders have come under pressure from conservative Republicans to use a funding bill to prevent Obama's administration from carrying out executive actions on immigration that could give legal status to millions of immigrants. 

Those conservatives have called for a spending measure to defund certain agencies that would carry out the order. 

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who wants to defund the order, said he didn’t buy the argument from appropriators.

“I just don't believe that,” he told reporters.

"They're contriving red herring arguments to get to the point that enough members will walk out of this Congress and go home for Thanksgiving saying, 'Well, there's nothing we can do.' "

Sen. Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsGingrich, Christie top Trump’s VP list: report Trump hopes for boost from Brexit vote GOP senators: Brexit vote a wake-up call MORE (R-Ala.) also dismissed the argument and said lawmakers could attach language to an appropriations bill that would result in defunding the order.

“The American people’s Congress has the power and every right to deny funding for unworthy activities,” he said. “It is a routine and constitutional application of congressional power. There is no question that Congress has the power to block this expenditure and no doubt that it can be done.”

Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations panel, acknowledged the procedural difficulties in defunding Obama’s order, but said there are ways around them.

"That's one of the challenges we've always had, but to say you can't do something, maybe we need to explore more options," he said.

"You can put a rider on a lot of things. There are a lot of ways to skin a cat."

Budget expert Stan Collender, executive vice president at Qorvis MSLGROUP, agreed that Republicans have options.

“Congress can, if it wishes, use an appropriations bill to include authorization language,” he said. “There’s no constitutional prohibition against that.”

But while Collender warned to take Rogers’ words about defunding with a “grain of salt,” he said defunding the order would face major hurdles.

Even if a bill defunding Obama's actions made it to the Senate floor, there would likely be a point of order that would require 60 votes to waive, Collender said.

On top of that, President Obama would almost certainly veto the bill, and Congress likely wouldn’t have the two-thirds majority needed to override it.

The House Appropriations Committee has communicated issues with defunding to GOP leaders, but Hing declined to describe their reaction.

Another idea Rogers had advanced for dealing with Obama's order was for Congress to pass a funding bill for the entire government this year, and then look to rescind funds related to the executive order in January, when Republicans will have control of both the House and the Senate.

Asked if a rescission bill would be irrelevant now, Hing said, “right,” but then added that this could change based on the executive order’s provisions.

“Later on, if we find out down the road that ... other agencies have some piece of it, then we can go back and specifically look at those agencies,” she said.

Congress could also pass an authorization bill to shift the funding authority for CIS to lawmakers.

But Rogers argued that couldn’t be part of an appropriations bill.

“To alter or change the fee matter, it would take a change of law — an authorization — to change an immigration act. It would take an act of Congress,” Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said.

The Appropriations panel, meanwhile, is moving forward with a 12-bill omnibus spending package. 

“We’re making good progress on negotiations and we expect to have the bill on the floor the week of December 8,” Hing said. 

Congress must pass a new spending bill by Dec. 12 or the government will shut down. 

— Peter Schroeder, Bernie Becker and Cristina Marcos contributed 

This story was last updated at 3:11 p.m.