In politics, seeing the bigger picture is more of a challenge than understanding the specifics of the moment. Funding the federal government past Dec. 11 in the middle of a clash over Obama’s immigration actions is no exception.

Because of congressional failure to adhere to the normal budget process, federal legislators have maintained government operations through large spending bills, also known as continuing resolutions. The most recent spending bill will expire this month. Congress must decide what areas of government it wishes to fund and for how long.

President Obama’s actions on immigration have significantly complicated those political considerations. Several Republican lawmakers — such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Steve King of Iowa and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann — have called on House Speaker John Boehner to include language in the upcoming funding legislation that would prevent federal spending on the president’s intended immigration plans. Such language would likely be removed in the Senate and potentially lead to another government shutdown if the House and Senate were unable to reach a subsequent agreement.

To avoid a shutdown, Boehner and current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are reportedly mulling over a compromise measure that would finance most of the government through the end of the fiscal year, while funding the Department of Homeland Security for only a few months. That deal would avoid a shutdown and give Republicans the ability to push back on President Obama’s immigration plan when they have control of the Senate. Reid suggested that such a proposal would be “a big accomplishment.”

In response to Reid’s comments, Jay Saxon, a lawyer in Birmingham and personal friend, succinctly posed a question that many Americans should be asking: “Since when is it a ‘big accomplishment’ to agree not to shut down the government?”

The answer is obvious and simultaneously disappointing. Congress, even a divided one, is constitutionally charged with the responsibility of funding the operations of government. Doing so should be an expectation, not a reason for applause.

Yet America finds many of its political leaders debating whether they should shut down the whole government over an inability to compromise on one policy area.

If Congress, charged by the Constitution with actually making laws, wants the president’s signature on an immigration reform measure, compromise will be required. If the president would truly like to receive a bill from Congress that he would sign, he needs to work with them. Those realities are not failures of leadership or evidence of political weakness; they are critical aspects of the Constitution’s required system for enacting law.

Sadly, political “leadership” at the federal level has devolved into the ability to win a high stakes game of chicken by successfully ensuring that the political opposition takes the blame for the damaging collision. By rolling the funding of the entire government into essentially one vote, important and legitimate policy disputes like immigration have been steamrolled by a winner-take-all approach.

The president picked the lame duck session after being handed a national political defeat to act unilaterally on immigration. He could have just as easily initiated his plan at any time during his term in office. President Obama knew his actions would be controversial, he knew Republicans and Democrats would not pass any immigration reforms in the lame duck and he likely suspected that Republicans might be baited into a repeat of 2013’s 16-day shutdown.

Many conservative Republican politicians may have concerns that their party’s leadership may be unwilling to undertake a battle over executive immigration action after funding most of the government. As a consequence, legislators like Cruz, King and Bachmann are willing to take on the president at every possible occasion, including next week.

If Republicans do plan to challenge the president in the next Congress and are able to strike a deal to split Homeland Security support from the remainder of federal funding, the president’s veto in 2015 would only have the ability to hold up funding for a relatively small portion of the government. By breaking the winner-takes-all approach to federal finance, Republicans have more political leverage and less exposure to being blamed for impacting unrelated federal programs.

While a few months delay in confronting the president’s immigration actions might be hard for conservatives to stomach, it could radically change their tactical advantage giving them a better chance at success.

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