Congress is scheduled to leave Washington at the end of the week with a number of critical issues still unresolved. Vermont’s delegation says there is hope for progress on two bills covering veterans’ health care and transportation funding.
The House and Senate are far apart on an immigration bill to deal with more than 52,000 undocumented children who have crossed the border.
The House is taking a short term funding approach and it also wants to include major changes to a law that allows undocumented children to receive a legal hearing before being deported. The Senate wants to provide more money for services and consider the legal changes at a future time.
Congressman Peter Welch is concerned that the disagreement will result in no action being taken.
“We are in a stalemate in this,” Welch said. “But there is just the looming reality that many on the Republican side acknowledge that we have these young people ages eight, nine, 10, 15 that are now in our custody. And they have to be fed; they have to be clothed; and there has to be a process to review the claims.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Trust Fund is set to run out of money next month. If Congress fails to act on this issue, thousands of projects across the country, and dozens in Vermont, will be canceled.
The House bill allocates enough money until next spring while the Senate is calling for a five-year plan. Welch expects the Senate to reluctantly agree to the House approach.
“It’s a total abdication, again, of Congressional responsibility to match a long-term funding source with our long-term highway and bridge infrastructure needs,” said Welch. “But it looks like that’s about the best that can happen at this moment.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders has been at the center of an effort to expand health care services at the Veterans Administration. As the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee, Sanders helped negotiate a $17 billion compromise with the House.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin told his colleagues that Sanders and Arizona Republican Senator John McCain have demonstrated that sometimes there can be bipartisan solutions in Congress.
“Self-styled independent socialist Democrat, how about that?” said Durbin. “Sanders and McCain sat down to solve the challenge facing the VA.”
The legislation allows veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility to seek care from a private doctor, and it expands existing services by creating more than 25 new centers.
Both the House and Senate are expected to pass the bill later this week.