Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) openly doubted Monday that Congress will be able to complete work on measures to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs and to address the growing influx of illegal immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border before the upcoming congressional summer recess.
The House and Senate plan to adjourn Aug. 1 for a five-week recess and several complex issues remain unresolved, with just a few days to go. In addition to the border and veterans' measures, lawmakers are still hoping to complete work on a plan to temporarily extend federal funding for highway and other major transportation construction projects and possibly to reauthorize a federal program that protects insurers from terrorism events.
In an extended speech Monday afternoon, Reid blasted continued Republican opposition to President Obama's request for $3.7 billion in emergency funding to help federal agencies address the influx of migrants crossing the southern border. GOP lawmakers have called for changing current immigration policy in exchange for granting Obama's spending request. Republicans and some Democrats want to rewrite the law on the due process rights of children coming from Central American countries. They are also seeking to stop the expansion of an Obama administration program that allows some illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children to get two-year work permits and a deferral of deportation proceedings. Immigration activists are urging Obama to renew or expand the program that has benefited so-called "Dreamers."
Reid said he's afraid that "we’re headed to the place where unless the Republicans get to deport all these DREAMers … or just give these kids no hearings, ship them back, I just think it's not fair."
Reid and other Democrats have dismissed proposals from Sens. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and others that would roll back current policy on the due process rights of young Central American immigrants and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Instead, Reid said, "We need to get resources to our border patrol agents and others who are caring for these children in Central America. We need judges to hear these kids’ cases and decide whether they need protection or need to be sent back home. The world is watching how this great democracy of ours responds to this crisis."
Reid's lack of optimism on the border crisis comes after House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) last week suggested that prospects for swift consideration of Obama's request are dwindling.
Reid was equally pessimistic about attempts to revamp the VA. Senators last month approved a bipartisan plan to provide the beleaguered agency with more funding and hiring authority, but talks with the Republican-controlled House have stalled in recent days over the eventual price tag.
“We had a big show here, not long ago, where we provided $35 billion to help veterans," Reid said. "We’ve spent trillions of dollars in two wars, unpaid-for by the way. That’s what President [George W.] Bush wanted, and that’s what he got. But now, when we’re being asked to spend a few dollars to take care of these people who have come back in need as our veterans … it looks to me like they’re going to come back with nothing."
"The conference is not being completed," Reid said. "Why? Because they [Republicans] have to spend some money on these people who they were glad to spend the money to take them to war, but now they’re back they’re missing limbs, they’ve got lots of post-traumatic stress problems, a lot of other medical issues, and no money there."