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Republican Boehner pushes long-term spending to avoid shutdown fight

Speaker of the House Boehner listens as U.S. President Obama talks as he hosts a luncheon for bi-partisan Congressional leaders in the Old Family Dining Room at the White House in Washington

(Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner urged fellow Republicans on Tuesday to pass a spending bill that funds most of the federal government through Sept. 30, 2015, avoiding a shutdown fight over President Barack Obama’simmigration action.

At a closed meeting of House Republicans to plot strategy on how to handle a must-pass government spending bill, Boehner proposed including a short-term extension for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the agency that will implement Obama’s immigration order, Republicans said.

That would allow Republicans to revisit efforts to block Obama’s immigration action by placing spending restrictions on DHS activities early next year.

Congress must pass a federal government spending bill by Dec. 11 to avoid a shutdown. Some Republicans want to use the spending bill to defund Obama’s unilateral action easing the threat of deportation for millions of undocumented residents.

The political stakes are high for Republicans. After huge wins in Nov. 4 elections that will give them a majority in the Senate and a bigger majority in the House next year, Boehner and other Republican leaders want to demonstrate that they can govern and avoid a shutdown fight.

Boehner said after the meeting that no decision had been made and consultations would continue with Republicans in the House and Senate.

“I think they understand that it’s going to be difficult to take meaningful action as long as we’ve got Democratic control of the Senate,” Boehner said.

“Frankly, we have limited options, limited ability to deal with it directly,” he said of possible responses to Obama’s immigration action.

Representative Peter Roskam of Illinois said Boehner’s proposal was well received, and he did not think the conservative effort to delete funding for immigration in the must-pass bill would get much traction.

“No one spoke in favor of a shutdown,” Representative Peter King of New York told reporters.

Republican Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, a prominent conservative, said support for the proposal among conservatives would depend on “what’s in the package.”

He told Reuters a short-term extension of DHS that lasted through March was “not good enough” because it would allow the administration to begin implementing Obama’s action. He said Boehner told the meeting the exact length of the DHS extension was still being discussed with the Senate.

But U.S. Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson told a congressional hearing he would not be able to fund the department’s activities adequately with only a short-term funding bill.

“I cannot hire new Secret Service agents until I get an appropriations bill passed by this Congress, not another CR (short-term extension) for a couple of months,” Johnson told the Homeland Security Committee. “I cannot continue to fund our enhanced detention facility in Texas.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he has made it clear since the election that there would be no government shutdown.

“We need to quit, you know, kind of rattling the economy with things that are perceived by the voters as disturbing,” he told a Washington conference.

House Republicans did agree on a one-year renewal of dozens of dozens of temporary federal tax breaks, setting aside for now any effort to restructure them.

Known as the “extenders,” the 55 regularly renewed measures impact a wide range of special interests, from school teachers and commuters to corporate research and alternative energy. A tentative deal to change how they are handled by Congress collapsed last week after a White House veto threat.

“The president blew it up, so we’re just going to do a clean, one-year deal,” said Representative Paul Ryan, who will take over as chairman of the House’s tax-writing committee beginning in January, at a conference in Washington.

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