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Pass the spending bill

Republicans in Congress have a rare opportunity during the next 10 days to demonstrate that they can be more than an angry and unruly mob and actually govern responsibly by passing an omnibus spending bill during the lame duck session. In the context of history, approving a federal spending plan (which is already two months overdue) would seem a minimum standard, but by the yardstick of more recent years, merely averting a government shutdown would seem like cause for celebration.

Many in the GOP ranks are clearly upset that President Barack Obama used his executive authority last month to temporarily shield millions of undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation. The more contentious among these critics have suggested retaliating by holding the budget hostage or perhaps holding hostage only the budget for the Department of Homeland Security or perhaps only approving a short-term budget resolution.

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But here's what that would get them: More government dysfunction. Members of Congress are welcome to gripe all they want about Mr. Obama's actions. To counter it, they need only pass an immigration bill. They are also welcome to try to pass a budget with whatever level of funding of whatever agency, department, commission or other federal functionary they deem appropriate — with the understanding that neither the Democrats in the U.S. Senate nor the president are potted plants and may oppose them.

Passing a budget under the best of circumstances is always a matter of political compromise. How approving funding for everything but Homeland Security will somehow cause the nation's borders to be more secure is something of a mystery, however. It's a strategy that's destined for only one conclusion — a government shutdown.

Thankfully, there are signs that cooler heads may prevail. House Speaker John Boehner has said repeatedly that he is not interested in another shutdown and has been advising his fellow Republicans that holding up the federal budget is not the proper avenue for countering Mr. Obama on immigration policy. That's critical, as his party's success in the midterm elections appears to have put Mr. Boehner in a stronger political position than ever.

In this, the speaker is simply being pragmatic. The 2013 shutdown over Obamacare was an unmitigated disaster for the party politically and may have cost the U.S. economy as much as $24 billion. Shutting down the government over an executive order involving immigration enforcement policy would be viewed in the same context — a failed hostage-taking by capricious right-wing doctrinaire Republicans.

On the other hand, if Mr. Boehner succeeds in passing a budget despite all the noise surrounding immigration, he will not only have demonstrated his stronger leadership grip and the ascension of the party's old guard over the upstart tea party wing but he will have sent a message to voters that the GOP can be trusted to act like grown-ups. That would wipe away memories of the 2013 debacle and raise the bar for the next Congress during which Republicans will have control of both chambers, including the party's biggest House majority in more than eight decades.

No doubt Democrats would prefer the GOP imploded and acted with the kind of hubris and short-sightedness that characterized the last shutdown. Some in Washington have even suggested that Mr. Obama's executive order was a Machiavellian plot intended to cause exactly this kind of turmoil within Republican ranks and sabotage the new majority before they're even sworn in.

Still, passing the omnibus spending bill by the Dec. 11 deadline won't be easy even if immigration is taken off the table. There's still the matter of tax breaks that are set to expire and may or may not be renewed. If Congress is going to seriously pursue deficit reduction next year, now might be a good time to view corporate tax breaks with greater skepticism. Mr. Obama has already threatened to veto any extension that benefits big business but not "working families."

Nor is that the only thing left on the lame duck plate. There's also the matter of funding Mr. Obama's request to combat ISIS and Ebola and assist immigrant children, passing a defense policy bill and renewing the federal terrorism risk insurance program, which is set to expire at the end of the month. A reasoned, bipartisan and judicious response to all of the above would be ideal, but with public expectations for Congress so low, not succumbing to another ill-considered government shutdown would be something of a respectable showing.

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