I don't want to deceive anyone by that headline, so allow me to explain its meaning up front. President Obama has the whole political universe holding its collective breath on when he's going to make his announcement of a change in immigration and deportation policy. News reports last week guessed that the announcement could come "as early as next week." Now that next week has become this week, everyone in Washington is expecting an announcement any moment.
Obama should wait, though. Not for long -- just for a few weeks. Obama should wait until just after Congress passes the next budget bill and puts it on his desk. Harry Reid has already called on the president to wait, and I have to say that I agree with him. The difference in timing of the next few weeks could have rather large consequences, not only for the president politically, but for America as a whole. It would be worth the wait of a few weeks to try and avoid the worst possible outcome over the budget. It may happen anyway, but the chance that it won't is worth taking, especially when it means merely a few weeks of waiting.
Republicans are already apoplectic over Obama's upcoming announcement, and they don't even know what he's going to announce yet. When he does actually unveil his new policy, it is guaranteed that Republicans will get even more upset. That's a given, really. The only question is precisely how ballistic they will go.
The Republican leadership is currently considering three options for the budget bill. The first, favored by the Establishment Republicans and most of the leadership, would be to pass a budget that carries us all the way to next October. The government would be funded until then, and the new Congress will still have the 2016 budget to fight over next year. Establishment Republicans prefer this because it would put the "government shutdown" idea off the table for a full year.
The next option would be to have a knock-down, drag-out budget fight in the next few weeks. This option is favored (no surprise) by the Tea Partiers. They want to use the budget bill to de-fund whatever Obama will soon be announcing on immigration reform. This could very easily lead to another standoff, and the government could shut down right before Christmas (Congress will reportedly have to act on the budget by December 11). The Tea Partiers feel justified in picking this fight now, much to the horror of the Republican leadership.
The third option would be some sort of compromise between the other two. A "continuing resolution" would pass to kick the budget deadline can down the road a few months. This punts the problem to the incoming Congress, and the outgoing Congress could all go home happily for the holidays. Then in February (most likely), the fight would start all over again. This may be the route Republicans actually take, since it is a compromise between their two factions.
The thing Obama should be considering is whether the timing of his immigration announcement could influence which option actually happens. Would it be more or less likely that the Tea Partiers stage a pre-Christmas battle if Obama announces his new policy this week? Would it be more or less likely that some sort of budget bill will pass before Christmas if Obama holds off for a few weeks?
To me, the answer is pretty obvious. It would improve chances of getting a budget bill done if Obama waits until afterwards to announce his new policy. Once again, there is no guarantee that waiting will produce a good outcome -- the Tea Partiers may work themselves into a frenzy just waiting for Obama's announcement. They're already doing so, and prolonging the wait might just cause Tea Partiers so much angst that they decide to pre-emptively strike against Obama's new policy -- even if it hasn't been announced yet. It's a real possibility.
Politically, it seems in Obama's best interest to wait, no matter what happens. If he waits and the Republican leadership succeeds in passing a budget for the whole of this fiscal year, then America gets some stability in the economy until next October. That would be a win for everyone, really. If Obama waits and the Republicans pass a budget bill only taking us into February or March, then Obama has that time to make his case to the country on his new policy. There'll be a big fight with the incoming Congress, but big fights with the incoming Congress are already pretty much of an inevitability anyway. If Obama waits, and the Republicans take us to the shutdown brink once again, then Obama can rightly say that Republicans can't get their act together even without the immigration issue in the mix. If things head over a cliff before the end of the year, it will expose the weakness of both John Boehner and Mitch McConnell in getting their caucuses to do the bare minimum of governing. Importantly, if we do reach such an impasse, Republicans won't have Obama's new immigration policy to blame, if it hasn't even been announced yet. Oh, sure, they'll try to blame Obama (they always do), but few people are going to listen.
I realize that Obama's immigration announcement is already long overdue. He promised to act this summer, and then punted to beyond the election, at congressional Democrats' request. His new promise was to act "by the end of the year" -- which doesn't have to mean this week. I have always assumed he will act close to either Thanksgiving or Christmas, to take advantage of the family-oriented holiday goodwill, which will help him make his case for not separating families. After the media reported last week that the announcement was imminent, it's been assumed that he will act before Thanksgiving. But I think Christmas is a better target to shoot for. The budget battle will likely take place during the first two weeks of December, and will likely be over by mid-month, one way or another.
We've waited this long, I think we can afford to wait another couple of weeks. It might not change anything -- it might not influence congressional Republicans in the slightest -- but there is a chance that it could. That chance is worth taking. This is why I would counsel President Obama to wait -- just a little bit longer -- to make his big immigration announcement.
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