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Monday, July 28, 2014

August recess, major legislation could be left undone


Congress Monday will begin a final week of legislative action before adjourning for the August recess, but partisan gridlock threatens to leave key legislation unfinished.
The president's request for additional funding to deal with a surge ofimmigrants on the border has hit a roadblock with the GOP.
But another bill that had stalled, legislation to help end long wait times at medical facilities for military veterans, may end up clearing Congress this week because the top negotiators announced a deal Sunday.
House lawmakers, meantime, will vote on a GOP-authored resolution authorizing a lawsuit againstPresident Obama over his use of executive action and they'll take action on a measure to strengthen sanctions against North Korea.
In the Senate, lawmakers are set to confirmRobert McDonald as the new Veterans Affairs secretary, and they are likely to clear a bill for the president's signature that will authorize $10.9 billion in funds to keep the nation's summer road and bridge projects from halting.
While the border bill has stalled, there is still a small chance for a deal by Thursday, which is the last day the House is in session until Sept. 8.
Democrats and Republicans are at odds over a 2008 deportation law that is preventing the fast deportation of the thousands of child migrants who have come here from Central America. President Obama initially backed a move to change the law in order to speed deportation of Central American minors.
Federal officials say 61,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the southern border into Texassince October.
But under pressure from immigration rights groups, Obama has since backed down and Congressional Democrats now say they oppose changing the law, which currently requires the government provide immigration hearings for Central American youth, a process that can take years.
This week, Democrats will have to decide whether a provision to change the 2008 law is a deal breaker, since Republicans in the House are unlikely to pass a border spending bill without it.
Both White House officials and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., hinted Democrats might give in on allowing a change to the provision.
“We’re talking to members on the hill about the best way to go about doing this,” White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Friday at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters. “But I think what we can’t do is hold up resources over this issue.”
If Congress agrees to pass a spending bill, it will likely be smaller than Obama's $3.7 billion request.House Republicans are drafting a $900 billion measure, while Senate Democrats have authored legislation providing $2.7 billion plus addition money to combat U.S. wildfires and to provide for the upkeep of Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system.
Lawmakers announced Sunday they reached a deal on a bill to provide money to the Department of Veterans Affairs, which has been unable to clear a massive backlog of veterans awaiting medical care. Talks have fallen apart on a deal to combine separate House and Senate bills.
After talks stalled last week, House Republicans on Monday had planned to hold a bicameral committee vote on a new measure to provide $10 billion to the department, most of it to pay for vets to seek private care if they face long wait times or distant travel to a VA facility.
Senate Democrats, didn't like the House bill and had authored a reform plan to provide the VA with $25 billion.
Under intense pressure to pass a bill before the August recess, the top negotiators worked through the weekend and appear ready to settle on a compromise between the two measures.
The fight over VA spending this week will happen as the Senate is expected to easily confirm McDonald as VA secretary. The former CEO of Procter & Gamble will replace Eric Shinseki, who resigned after revelations that VA officials at several facilities hid long waiting lists and left veterans awaiting medical care for months, and in some cases years.
Before leaving town for five weeks, the Senate is likely to endorse a House-passed bill to pay for federal highway projects until next may. The move would delay until next year a partisan battle over over a long term and more costly deal to pay for road projects, which have been underfunded annually by about $14 billion.
The House will also vote on a measure that would allow President Obama to sanction banks that people who facilitate money laundering and human rights abuses in North Korea. And they’ll vote on a measure to allow airlines to advertise their base price separately from government fees and taxes, which Republicans say will provide more transparency to the flying public.
White House correspondent Susan Crabtree contributed to this report.

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