Conservative Republicans on Wednesday resisted a plan to avert a budget fight over President Barack Obama's immigration order, raising the likelihood that the spending struggle in Congress could last right up to the Dec. 11 deadline for a government shutdown.
Tea Party lawmakers stood firm against House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner's plan to pass a spending bill keeping most of the government running through September 2015 and postponing the battle over immigration until early next year, when Republicans take control of the Senate and expand their House majority.
That opposition could force Boehner once again to seek Democratic support to pass his spending proposal and avert a shutdown after the government's spending authority expires. Republican leaders are desperate to avoid that after a 16-day shutdown a year ago inflicted heavy political damage on the party.
The small but unruly band of conservatives, who have been a persistent headache for Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, said there was no reason to wait until next year to try to deny funding for Obama's order.
"Congress should stand up and use the power of the purse," said Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. He and others argue that Obama's announcement last month that he was using executive powers to ease the threat of deportation for up to 4.7 million undocumented immigrants amounts to an illegal amnesty.
"We will not allocate taxpayers money to lawless and illegal amnesties," he said outside the Capitol, where a small crowd of Tea Party backers waving US and Revolutionary War-era "Don't Tread on Me" flags offered support.
A ringleader of the House resistance, Representative Steve King of Iowa, estimated a core group of 20 to 50 Republican House members supported the effort to use the must-pass government spending bill as leverage in the immigration fight.
But Boehner has used Democrats to pass spending bills during previous showdowns, including the shutdown last year, and many conservatives acknowledged they were fighting an uphill battle.
"There's likely to be Democratic support for it, which means they could pass it without us," said conservative Representative John Fleming, a Louisiana Republican.
A bill to keep the government operating beyond Dec. 11 likely will not emerge in the House until Monday at the earliest, a senior House Republican aide said, meaning floor debate and a vote on passage would not come until Wednesday or Thursday, the deadline day.
McConnell endorsed Boehner's proposal to pass a full year of funding for most government agencies but give only a short-term extension to the Department of Homeland Security, which will implement the immigration order.
That would give Republicans a chance to revisit funding for the plan next year when they will take control of both chambers of Congress after November's midterm elections.
"I think that's a pretty responsible way to go forward. It doesn't shut anything down but also doesn't give the Department of Homeland Security a full year's funding and guarantees a kind of ongoing discussion about this whole issue," McConnell said on the Sirius radio programme "Yahoo News on POTUS."
McConnell repeated his vow to avoid a shutdown, which he warned would rattle economic markets. The Dow and S&P 500 stock indexes dipped around 5 per cent during last year's shutdown, which was accompanied by a dispute over the country's debt ceiling, but rebounded afterward. US economic growth slowed slightly because of spending cuts.