WASHINGTON (AP) — Gridlock prevailed in the U.S. capital as the Republican-dominated House of Representatives failed to bring along its ultra-conservative tea party wing for a vote Thursday on a bill to free up money to deal with the immigration crisis that has seen nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children in recent months cross the U.S. border. Many are fleeing raging violence in their Central American homeland.
The Democrat-controlled Senate wasn’t faring any better. It was debating a much different measure to spend $2.7 billion on the border crisis but without the policy changes in the House bill that would send migrants home more quickly. President Barack had asked Congress to provide $3.7 billion to cope with the flood of young immigrants.
Congress now faces a five-week summer break. House Speaker John Boehner took the unusual step of delaying the recess, which had been scheduled to begin on Friday, and House Republicans agreed to meet again in the morning to see if they could find a bill that could pass.
Lawmakers’ inability to act on such a major domestic issue underlined yet again the deep partisanship in Washington, where Republican control of the House has virtually eliminated any chance for Obama to move his agenda into law.
Regardless of action in either house of Congress on Thursday, it would have been impossible for negotiators from the House and Senate to reconcile the extreme differences between their proposed versions of legislation to ease the border crisis.
The House had been widely expected to at least vote on a bill that would provide $659 million to deal with the crisis.
But a Thursday vote was abruptly abandoned, just minutes before the House went on its summer holiday.
Small-government tea party lawmakers in the House resisted, even though Boehner had agreed to take a vote on a second, tea party-authored bill that would have blocked Obama from expanding his executive order to temporarily grant work permits and allow some undocumented immigrants to stay in the country if they had been brought to the United States by their parents as minors.
In the final days of the session, the House instead used time to approve a measure to sue Obama for exceeding his executive powers by delaying implementation of parts of his signature legislation overhauling health care, a law widely now known as Obamacare.
It also passed major spending measures for transportation projects and a massive bill to overhaul the Veterans Administration.
Congressional budget analysts put the cost of the veterans’ bill at $16.3 billion over three years and estimate it will add $10 billion to federal deficits over the next 10 years — far more than Obama had sought for the border crisis. It was passed after revelations that veterans were forced to wait months for medical care and that Veterans Administration hospitals were covering up the delays.
The postponement of the immigration vote in the House was an embarrassment for Boehner and displayed yet again the growing split among mainstream Republicans and their tea party colleagues who have pulled the party inexorably to the right.
All 435 members of the House face re-election in November. Congress has extraordinarily low approval ratings and has proved to have been one of the least productive in recent American history. Nevertheless, few Republicans are expected to lose their seats in November.
In the Senate, 36 of 100 seats are up for election, and Republicans are pushing hard to retake the majority.
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