Congress Scrambles to Actually Do Its Job Ahead of Long Summer Break

Lawmakers have a long to-do list but little time to complete it before the annual summer recess begins on Friday.

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The typically languid Congress is a flurry of activity this week, and a bustling Capitol usually means that lawmakers are desperate to meet deadlines before skipping town for a long break.

The five-week August recess begins on Friday, setting up a series of important votes in the 48 hours before members fly back to their districts. The House and Senate are battling over highway funding that expires in September and over proposals to address the migrant crisis at the border. House Republicans also want to finalize their plans to sue the president for not enforcing his own healthcare law, and they plan to pass a bipartisan compromise on legislation to reform the VA.

Here's a look at the congressional to-do list:

Border Crisis

The influx of migrant children on the U.S.-Mexico border has sparked a furious round of finger-pointing in Washington, and the House and Senate each plan to vote on competing spending bills aimed at stemming the crisis.

Yet, the two parties are nowhere close to an agreement, and each is hoping to pass a bill before Friday so lawmakers won't have to go before angry constituents in their districts with nothing to show for their efforts.

It's entirely possible that neither the House nor Senate will muster enough votes for their bills, resulting in a complete congressional whiff on the border mess. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters on Tuesday that the House would likely vote on its $659 million package Thursday, and while he said he thought there was "sufficient" support for it, he acknowledged G.O.P. leaders had "a little more work to do" to win the vote.

The Senate held an initial vote on its more robust proposal on Wednesday, but Republicans are unlikely to help Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) get the 60 votes he needs to pass it.

That prompted Reid to make a thinly-veiled effort to torpedo the House bill by floating the idea that he would attach the Senate's comprehensive immigration bill to the House proposal. The suggestion, which drew immediate condemnation from Boehner, was aimed at scaring off House conservatives who have long feared — without much justification — that passing any border bill would ultimately lead to a broader compromise with President Obama on a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

With all the bickering, the likelihood is that Obama will have nothing to sign when lawmakers head home for the summer.

Highway funding

Congress has until the end of September to plug a gap in the Highway Trust Fund that could force states to halt or slow construction on infrastructure projects throughout the country, threatening jobs. With Democrats and Republicans far apart on a long-term solution, the legislative haggling is all about how far to punt the ball. The House passed a bill to fund highway programs through May, kicking the question of a more permanent fix into the next Congress (when Republicans could control the Senate). Senate Democrats say that is too long for a stop-gap measure, and with help from Republicans, they successfully amended the House bill so that the shortfall in the trust fund will only be filled until December. That would force Congress to face the challenge again in its lame-duck session after the November elections.

It's now Boehner's move, and he made clear on Tuesday that the House would simply re-attach its version and ping-pong it back to the Senate. With the clock running out, the latest volleys make it more likely the Highway Trust Fund will remain in limbo into September.

Veterans Administration

Legislation responding to the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs is a rare bright spot for Congress, as the bill is about to become law — albeit belatedly. The House is expected to pass the bipartisan compromise with strong support on Wednesday, and the Senate could send it to the president's desk by the end of the week.

The $17 billion bill makes it easier for veterans to seek care outside the V.A., provide funding for new V.A. doctors and facilities, and reduce money available for executive bonuses. It would also make it easier to oust under-performing senior officials, a top G.O.P. priority.

Obama Lawsuit

House Republicans have a lot on their plate, but they don't want to leave Washington before authorizing a lawsuit against President Obama over his implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The proposed lawsuit accuses the president of making changes to Obamacare without congressional authorization.

Democrats have used the move by Boehner as a fund-raising boon and charged the G.O.P. with launching a march toward impeaching the president — an accusation that the Speaker has vehemently denied.

The House vote on Wednesday is expected to come down along party lines, although a few lawmakers in tight re-election battles could break ranks. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.