WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congress struggled last week with a response to the surge of thousands of unaccompanied minors arriving at the U.S. southern border, before recessing for a five-week August break.
The Senate failed to advance a $2.7 billion bill to address the surge. The funding would be spent on humanitarian assistance, border security, and to hire additional immigration judges to process migrants seeking to remain in the country after fleeing homes in Central America.
Republican senators banded to block the measure, along with two Democrats, argued it effectively would give the president “a blank check” without making changes in policies that they said are encouraging migrants to try to enter the country.
The bill fell on a 50-44 procedural vote. Sixty votes were needed to keep it alive.
Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both D-Wash., voted for the bill.
In the face of revolt by conservative members, House Republican leaders delayed an initial vote on a GOP-written version that contained $659 million for border activities.
The House delayed its summer break and was working into the evening on Friday toward passage of an amended version that was sweetened with funding for National Guard border activities.
The bill also changed anti-trafficking law that would effectively allow unaccompanied children to be deported more quickly.
VA health bill
Congress had more success finalizing a $17 billion bill to pay for an overhaul of Department of Veterans Affairs health care, following scandal over long appointment wait times at many medical centers and revelations that employees were covering up the delays.
The bill that cleared both chambers and was sent to the White House contained funding for the VA to hire more doctors and nurses. It also allows veterans unable to get timely appointments, or who live far away, to seek treatment by non-VA doctors. New VA Secretary Robert McDonald also would have greater authority to fire incompetent senior executives.
The bill passed the House 420-5.
Congressman Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., voted for the bill.
The Senate vote was 91-3.
Cantwell and Murray voted for it.
Congress also averted a cutback in federal road funding to states by transferring $10.8 billion into the Highway Trust Fund and authorizing payments through next May. The fund was scheduled to drop to an unhealthy level as of Aug. 1, threatening projects across the country.
The Senate voting 81-13 cast the final action on a bill version that passed the House in July.
Cantwell and Murray voted for it.
The Republican-led House voted 225-201 mostly along party lines to authorize Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to filed a lawsuit against President Obama on the accusation the president oversteps his constitutional powers.
GOP members say Obama executive orders in a number of areas are unlawful because it is up to Congress to make laws of change them. The lawsuit reflecting long frustration with the president is expected to focus on changes the president authorized in carrying out the Affordable Care Act.
“It is an appropriate question to put to the third branch of government to see if the founder’s system of checks and balances really expired in 2008,” when Obama was elected, said Congressman Mark Amodei, R-Nev.
In a move seen as an attempt to fire up their base, Democrats seized on the vote to argue that Republicans wouldn’t stop at suing Obama.
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the House minority leader, to GOP lawmakers the lawsuit was “on a path to nowhere, or maybe among some in your ranks, a path to impeachment.”
Herrera Beutler voted for the lawsuit. Kilmer voted against it.