Congress oks VA, highway bills, not border measure

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 31, 2014 at 8:11 pm •  Published: July 31, 2014
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"Congress should not go into recess until the job is completed," he said.

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.

Most of the money will be used to let veterans seek care from outside physicians if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or face a long wait to see a doctor at one. The legislation also would allow the hiring of additional physicians for the VA and permit the firing of senior executives guilty of poor performance.

The bill marked a traditional compromise between the parties and the houses of the sort that lawmakers have struck for generations. Democrats gave up their insistence on more funding, and Republicans agreed to let deficits rise by $10 billion as part of the agreement rather than seek offsetting cuts elsewhere.

More urgent was the bill to prevent a reduction in federal highway construction funding at the height of the summer construction season.

The Transportation Department set Friday as the date the Highway Trust Fund will no longer be able to provide all the aid promised, and estimated that states could expect an average reduction of 28 percent unless Congress acted by then.

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 next May.

Legislation providing money for Iron Dome, the Israeli missile defense system, had yet to be made public late in the day. Instead, the funding was tucked inside a border security bill that was drafted by Senate Democrats and opposed by Republicans.

Officials said they expected that the Israeli money eventually would be broken out, and that if the Senate approved it, the House would agree.

But first, there was bickering aplenty over immigration, an issue that has divided Congress for years.

Said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky: "It boggles the mind that the president of the United States would rather fundraise in Hollywood than ... to do something to prevent more young people from making the perilous and potentially life-threatening journey across the desert."

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, was no more charitable about House Republicans. She said their approach would "intensify the harm for children."

Administration officials have signaled that Obama intends to use an executive order to expand the program, which the president unveiled in the heat of his presidential re-election campaign in 2012.

If he does, Boehner said, "he'll be sealing the deal on his legacy of lawlessness."

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Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Erica Werner, Joan Lowy, Donna Cassata, Andrew Taylor and Alan Fram contributed to this report.