Congress Facing Long To-Do List 07/22 06:39
A gridlocked Congress failed to do the big things: overhauling the nation's
immigration system, reforming the loophole-cluttered tax code and stiffening
background checks on gun buyers. Now it's time to see whether it can just do
WASHINGTON (AP) --- A gridlocked Congress failed to do the big things:
overhauling the nation's immigration system, reforming the loophole-cluttered
tax code and stiffening background checks on gun buyers. Now it's time to see
whether it can just do the basics.
With just two weeks before lawmakers' sacrosanct August break, progress is
decidedly mixed on several must-pass items due to Capitol Hill partisanship,
heightened by midterm elections and the Obama administration's conflicting
signals to Congress. Lawmakers must find about $10 billion to keep highway
projects on track through next spring, ease long wait times for veterans
seeking health care and deal with a humanitarian crisis of some 57,000
unaccompanied immigrant children who have entered the U.S. along the Southern
border since last fall.
Looming large is legislation to keep the government operating beyond the
start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1; the House has completed seven of the 12
spending bills while the Senate has done none. A once-promising effort to
revive the appropriations process in the Senate appears to have derailed in a
test of wills between top Senate leaders over the rights of Republicans to
offer amendments to legislation.
It's looking increasingly possible, even likely, that the warring parties
won't come together to pass President Barack Obama's request for $3.7 billion
to help deal with children flooding into the country from Central America. The
main roadblock is whether to also change a 2008 law that guarantees these
minors, many of whom are fleeing violence, a hearing before an immigration
"I doubt it," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who helped craft a
comprehensive Senate immigration bill last year that remains stalled in the
Congressional aides in both parties say the politics over changing the 2008
law to make it easier for the Border Patrol to immediately send back
unaccompanied minors to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras has all but sunk
Obama's request. The administration has sent contradictory signals on whether
it would be open to toughening the law --- a non-negotiable demand of
Republicans. Congressional Democrats are balking at using the emergency funding
bill to advance changes to the 2008 statute.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., accused Republicans on Monday of
"resorting to ransoming children to get their way."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who also worked on the immigration bill, said
he couldn't envision a bill emerging from the House. "No Republican is going to
vote for billions of dollars without changes to the law," Graham said.
And in what seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago, aides say it's looking
like negotiations over House- and Senate-passed veterans' health legislation
have bogged down after the administration upped the ante with a demand for
almost $18 billion to hire 10,000 doctors, nurses and other health care aides,
and lease new facilities to create additional capacity over the coming three
years. That request, on top of about $30 billion to permit veterans facing long
waits to seek treatment outside the Veterans Affairs system, has unnerved GOP
The Democratic and GOP aides spoke on condition of anonymity in order to
more candidly assess the prospects of various measures.
"We've got to start strengthening the VA right now," said Sen. Bernie
Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee. The panel's top
Republican, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, said the nearly $18 billion
doesn't have to be part of any agreement worked out with the House, and he
remained optimistic that something could be done in two weeks.
Said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.: "If we can't come together on a veterans'
bill, it certainly highlights the problems we've had in getting anything done
here. One would think veterans would overcome any of those challenges."
Things are looking more promising for legislation to "patch" the highway
trust fund after an overwhelming House vote last week. Both Republicans and
Democrats predict the Senate will end up simply accepting the House measure,
which will keep highway and transit money flowing through May 2015.
Republicans eager to avert a politically disastrous partial government
shutdown may try to move a short-term spending measure to keep the government
open until after the November elections. The legislation could come as early as
next week, or be put off until September, when the House is scheduled to be in
session just 12 days. Either way, GOP conservatives no longer want a shutdown
showdown over implementing Obama's signature health care law close to the
midterm elections, especially with a legitimate shot at winning a Senate
Conservatives are, however, targeting the Export-Import Bank, which helps
finance exports of U.S. companies such as aircraft maker Boeing. Establishment
Republicans support extending the Ex-Im Bank's authority past a Sept. 30
deadline. Tea party forces are opposed, and the internecine GOP struggle may
play out in September as a backdrop to a short-term spending measure to prevent
The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill last week to extend a program that
helped stabilize jittery insurance markets in the aftermath of the Sept. 11
terrorist attacks. But the bill has hit a snag in the House and won't pass
until this fall at the earliest.
The program is designed to cushion the financial blow to insurance companies
in the event of another massive attack. Under the program, the federal
government helps pay damages for attacks that cost more than $100 million. The
program is scheduled to expire at the end of the year. The Senate voted 93-4 to
extend it through 2021.
House leaders tentatively scheduled a vote last week, but the vote was
delayed and it's unclear when the bill will be revisited. Some House
Republicans want changes to limit the government's involvement in the insurance