Monday, December 18, 2017
News Roundup

Congress sends VA, highway bills to president

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan, $16 billion measure to clean up after a scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs and a second bill to prevent a cutoff in highway funding gained final passage in the Senate and were sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.

With lawmakers eager to adjourn for a five-week summer break, legislation to send Israel $225 million for its Iron Dome missile defense system was blocked, at least initially, by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

The veterans bill cleared the Senate on a vote of 91-3, one day after the House passed it by 420-5. It was a response to the long delays that some veterans experienced while waiting for care, as well as a cover-up by some agency officials.

Most of the money will be used to let veterans seek care from outside physicians if they live more than 40 miles from a VA facility or face a long wait to see a doctor at one. The legislation also would allow the hiring of additional physicians for the VA and permit the firing of senior executives guilty of poor performance.

Democrats gave up their insistence on more funding, and Republicans agreed to let deficits rise by $10 billion as part of the agreement.

More urgent was the bill to prevent a reduction in federal highway construction funding at the height of the summer construction season.

The Transportation Department set today as the date the Highway Trust Fund will no longer be able to provide all the aid promised, and estimated that states could expect an average reduction of 28 percent unless Congress acted by then.

The two houses have played legislative pingpong with the issue in recent days. The Senate voted 81-13 to pass a House-approved measure making $10.8 billion available, enough to last until next May.

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