This week: Congress speeds toward highway funding deadline

The long August recess is within striking distance for lawmakers eager to leave Washington by the end of the week. But first, Congress faces a Friday deadline to ensure funding for transportation projects doesn’t run dry.

The Senate is under a tight deadline to finish its work on the highway legislation, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMcConnell: Trump needs to 'catch up fast' on fundraising McConnell dodges on whether Trump is qualified to be president Sunday shows preview: Next steps after Trump upheaval MORE (R-Ky.) hoping to ship the bill across the Capitol to the House by the end of this week. 

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House leadership has offered a cool reception to the six-year Senate bill, while McConnell and Senate GOP leaders hope the July 31 deadline will force the House's hand.

The House plans to depart Washington for the five-week summer recess on Thursday afternoon. House Republican and Democratic leaders are still pushing the five-month patch approved by the chamber earlier this month.

If the Senate passes its bill in time, it’s unclear if the House will take it up. Members of both parties have expressed concern about the Senate measure providing offsets for only three of the six years of transportation policy it authorizes.

But if the Senate doesn’t pass its bill before Thursday, the House may adjourn anyway for the recess and leave the upper chamber with no other option but to pass the five-month extension.

The measure first faces hurdles in the Senate. Democrats defeated a push on Sunday to use the legislation as a vehicle to repeal ObamaCare, something that, if successful, would have likely garnered a veto from the White House. 

A push to attach reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank overcame a first procedural hurdle in a rare Sunday session, with a final vote on the amendment expected Monday. 

McConnell also cut some off the more controversial funding streams from the legislation in an effort to shore up Democratic support for the legislation, which he negotiated with Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara BoxerHispanic Caucus PAC looks to flex its muscles in 2016 Dems who sat out the sit-in offer array of reasons Senate honors Cleveland Cavs' NBA championship MORE (D-Calif.).

VA reform, regulations

The House will take up a bill to authorize the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) to fire or demote employees based on poor performance or misconduct. It would further limit the amount of time for VA employees to appeal disciplinary actions. 

Congress sent legislation to President Obama’s desk last year in the aftermath of reports showing excessive delays for veterans’ Medicare that allows veterans to seek private care outside VA facilities and provide funding for the VA to hire more doctors. But lawmakers say that the VA has not implemented the reforms fast enough.

Another bill that could hit the floor this week would direct the VA to develop a plan to consolidate all provider programs at facilities outside the agency’s system into a single program known as the Veterans Choice Program.

In addition, the House will vote on legislation this week that would require Congress to approve all new major regulations. No major regulations would become law until Congress approved them.

The House previously passed the bill in the last two sessions of Congress, but the Senate — then controlled by Democrats — never considered it.

Below is a day-by-day breakdown of the week ahead:

Monday

The Senate is expected to take a final vote on attaching reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank to the highway bill. 

The House will convene at noon for morning hour debate and 2 p.m. for legislative business. Votes on noncontroversial bills considered under suspension of the rules will be at 6:30 p.m.

Tuesday

The Senate will likely still be on the highway bill, but is expected to recess from 12:30 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. for weekly party lunches.

The House will likely consider the bill requiring Congress to approve major regulations. 

Wednesday

The Senate is expected to be debating the highway bill, and possibly finish it by the end of the day to send it to the House. If the Senate can’t pass its highway bill by Wednesday, its odds for House consideration drop considerably.

The House may vote on the bill to make it easier for the VA to fire or demote employees deemed to be incompetent.

Thursday

The Senate may still be plowing through its highway bill, though its efforts may be futile if it hasn’t sent the measure to the House already. 

The House may vote on a second VA reform bill before departing for the August recess.

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