Sara Ramirez, of Gaithersburg, Md., rallies for comprehensive immigration reform outside the White House in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 7, 2014
Jacquelyn Martin—AP
By Alex Rogers
November 20, 2014

Even before President Obama officially announces a major executive action shielding millions of undocumented workers from deportation, Republicans in the House are clashing over how to stop it.

On one side: Conservatives who want to revoke funding for the government programs that will carry out Obama’s unilateral actions. On the other side, appropriators argue that won’t work because of how the programs are funded.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers is pushing for a package of spending bills that would fund the government through September and take a defund effort off the table. His staff noted that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which will likely be in charge of administering Obama’s changes, gets its money through fees and wouldn’t be affected by a spending fight — or even a shutdown.

“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,” says Rogers spokeswoman Jennifer Hing. “Therefore, the Appropriations process cannot be used to ‘de-fund’ the agency. The agency has the ability to continue to collect and use fees to continue current operations, and to expand operations as under a new executive order, without needing legislative approval by the Appropriations Committee or the Congress, even under a continuing resolution or a government shutdown.”

But conservatives weren’t buying that argument.

“We could scoop all of their fees if we chose to do that,” says Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). “We could shut them down if we chose to do that. So I don’t think it’s hard at all. I think people are looking for an argument when they find out this doesn’t work they’ll create another one.”

“Just write it into the bill,” he adds. “’No fees shall be used…’”

“We have not had the discussion in conference but at the end of the day it’s our responsibility to approve any spending out of the Treasury—the Constitution is very clear on that,” argued Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp. “I’m not going to give up that authority just because the president wants to take it.”

Conservative Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions and even appropriators say that Congress could change how the Citizenship and Immigration Services uses its fees with new authorization. But appropriators argue that Obama would veto the bill, the government would shut down, and the program would continue to operate with its fees.

“There are authorization lines in every bill, especially these big ones,” counters Sessions. “We’ve done it time and time again. It’s a narrow, discrete fix.”

“This is a matter of constitutional importance,” he adds. “This is a presidential overreach.”

Senior Republicans are wary of statements from its most extreme flanks, like outgoing Rep. Michele Bachmann’s comments to the Washington Post that Obama’s measure would incur a “social cost” to taxpayers, with “millions of unskilled, illiterate, foreign nationals coming into the United States who can’t speak the English language.”

“That’s the trouble with having some of these new young punks around here,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told the Washington Post. “They ought to listen to us old geezers.”

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