It could be a messy final few hours in Congress on Thursday, as lawmakers get ready to take a five week summer break that lasts until after Labor Day, as final action is assured on a VA reform bill, but other major legislation remains in limbo as the smell of jet fumes and lure of vacation envelops Capitol Hill.
Here’s a rundown of what might – and might not – get done.
1. VA Reform is a lock
If there is one bill that will get through the Congress this week, it’s the $17 billion VA reform legislation. The bill now awaits a vote in the Senate after the House approved it on a vote of 420-5. The few Republicans who voted against the plan argued that the spending should have been entirely offset, so as not to increase the budget deficit by over $11 billion. The vote in the Senate should be another slam dunk, again proving that bipartisanship is still alive – you just have to work for it.
2. Immigration money remains in limbo
The issue of funneling more money to the southern border could be the thorniest item to deal with before lawmakers rush for the exits. A $2.7 billion plan from Senate Democrats is expected to run aground in a familiar dispute over amendments, leaving most of the focus on a $659 million House GOP plan. Not only does it face a veto threat by President Obama (who feels it goes too far in dealing with deportations), but it also faces opposition from some more conservative Republicans (who feel it doesn’t do enough to stem the arrivals of illegal immigrants). If Republicans are able to pass their bill, look for them to leave town and basically tell the Senate to ‘take it or leave it.’
3. Time for a few more hearings before recess
A House panel will hear from Congressional investigators on Thursday morning, who will detail their findings after a full review of the troubles that beset the healthcare.gov website. The GAO report cites a lack of effective planning, inconsistent oversight and significant cost increases and delays – blaming much of that on frequent changes in requirements for the website. The study finds the feds have set aside $840 million for the website’s operations, but seem to indicate that amount could still go up, adding “significant risks remain that upcoming open enrollment periods could encounter challenges.”
4. Highway Bill faces uncertain future
Not only are the House and Senate seemingly intent on approving differing plans to infuse new money into the trust fund for road and bridge construction, but now there’s a further problem, as the Senate’s plan has a $2 billion budget hole in it. Backers disclosed that problem on Wednesday as House GOP leaders again said they would strip out changes made by the Senate and send the bill back (what we call Legislative Ping Pong). If no final bill is sent to the President’s desk, then the Obama Administration has threatened to start cutting federal transportation dollars for the states in early August.
5. The House is ready to leave town
The most dangerous place in America might be the plaza outside the U.S. House on Thursday afternoon, as if GOP leaders have their way, many Democrats and Republicans will be rushing out the door to catch a plane home by 3 pm. A Thursday evening departure wouldn’t be a surprise for the Senate, especially when you consider the fact that the Senate has not taken a roll call vote on a Friday all year. (It’s what some might call the power of jet fumes.) The current schedule does not have the Congress convening for legislative session again until September 8, and there was even talk in the hallways on Wednesday of lawmakers working only two weeks in September and then going back home for the November elections.