Congress OKs Veterans Administration, Highway Bills
WASHINGTON (AP) – Congress ran full-tilt into election-year gridlock over immigration Thursday and staggered toward a five-week summer break after failing to agree on legislation to cope with the influx of young illegal immigrants flocking to the United States.
Faring far better, a bipartisan, $16 billion measure to clean up after a scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs and a second bill to prevent a cutoff in highway funding gained final passage in the Senate and were sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.
House Speaker John Boehner accused Democrats of pursuing a “nutso scheme” of trying to seize on the border crisis to try to grant a path to citizenship to millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.
Countering, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said blame for failing to fix problems at the border rested with Republicans. He charged they have refused to provide “the necessary resources to deal with what they themselves describe as a serious problem.”
Despite Boehner’s accusation, it was Republican unity that cracked first during the day.
A few hours after Boehner spoke, Republicans abruptly canceled a vote on their own border security legislation, a $659 million measure that also would make it easier to deport the children from Central America now flooding into the United States. They did so after a revolt by tea party-aligned GOP lawmakers, some of whom had conferred with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz the night before.
They argued that the leadership’s offer of a vote on a companion bill, even if it were approved, would fall short of reversing a 2012 administration policy under which 500,000 immigrants living in the country illegally have obtained work permits.
A short while later, a $2.7 billion Democrat alternative to ease the crisis at the border perished in the Senate, blocked by Republicans and two Democrats seeking the right to seek changes.
The veterans bill cleared the Senate on a vote of 91-3, one day after the House passed it by 420-5. It was a response to the extremely long delays that some veterans experienced while waiting for care, as well as a cover-up by some agency officials.
All West Virginia and Ohio senators voted for the bill.
The Transportation Department set today as the date the Highway Trust Fund will no longer be able to provide all the aid promised, .
The two houses have played legislative ping pong with the issue in recent days. But with time running out, the Senate voted 81-13 to pass a House-approved measure making $10.8 billion available, enough to last until May.
Ohio’s Republican senator, Rob Portman, cast one of the votes against the bill.