House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday blasted President Barack Obama for gumming up efforts by Congress to pass bills to fix the border and reform the Department of Veterans Affairs before Congress leaves for its August break.
Both the House and Senate have been scrambling to pass legislation before August dealing with the humanitarian crisis at the border involving tens of thousands of children who have tried to cross into the United States.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio blamed President Barack Obama for meddling in congressional negotiations to pass a VA reform bill and a border bill, which has stalled those talks. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Boehner said Obama initially indicated he wants to see changes to a 2008 law that prevents border officials from immediately sending these unaccompanied minors back to their home countries in Central American. But he said Obama then changed his mind, a move he appeared to take in the face of Democratic opposition.
"Now the president and his team have apparently flip-flopped," Boehner said. "Now they want billions in new spending with no commitment to actually solving the problem."
Boehner indicated that the White House position against changing the law has colored the congressional negotiations, making it more difficult to reach an agreement with Senate Democrats.
"But understand, it's time for the White House to get their act together," Boehner said. "Do they want to change the '08 law and address the real underlying problem here, or don't they?"
Boehner added that the border crisis is "a problem of the president's own making" to begin with, an apparent reference to the GOP complaint that Obama's desire to ease immigration rules for illegal residents already in the U.S. has led to the flooded southwestern U.S. border.
When asked directly whether the House could pass a border bill by next week, Boehner said only that GOP leaders were "continuing to talk to our colleagues."
The Speaker made his remarks just moments after it became clear that House-Senate negotiations on a VA bill were close to collapsing. Democratic senators said Thursday morning that they saw no way forward in negotiating an agreement with House Republicans, which were opposed to providing the VA with billions more in funding.
Here again, Boehner blamed Obama for pushing for $13.5 billion more in funding for the VA as part of the VA reform bill, which is broadly aimed at improving access to health care services for the nation's veterans. Boehner said that request, which was first made in the Senate, threw off the negotiations and essentially asked House Republicans to approve a blank check for the broken VA.
"Bipartisan, bicameral negotiations were making good progress until the White House began demanding more money with no accountability and no strings attached," Boehner said.
"I want to be clear: there's going to be no blank check for the president and his allies," Boehner added. "Some in Washington may view every new crisis as an opportunity to demand more taxpayer dollars. But the American people don't see it that way."
Boehner said Obama's request for billions more in funding was "not very clearly outlined, no hearings, no nothing," and said the White House is expecting Republicans to accept that request. "We're not going to do that," he said.
Earlier Thursday morning, Republicans on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee made a similar complaint about the funding request. Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said he asked for details about how the money would be used, and so far has been given a two-page explanation for how the $13.5 billion would be spent.
Despite the setback on the VA bill, Miller said at a later meeting that descriptions of the VA negotiations as being near collapse are "wildly exaggerated," and said efforts to reach a deal would continue into next week.
Miller proposed a new offer that would give the VA $10 billion immediately, and then subject other elements of the Senate's VA reform bill to the regular congressional appropriations bill. It was not immediately clear how Democrats would react to that proposal, although it falls well below a Senate Democratic bill to spend $25 billion.
As a sign of how fractured the talks have become, Miller made that offer a meeting that was supposed to include GOP and Democratic negotiators from the House and Senate, but only included GOP members.