President Obama blasted House Republicans for focusing on "extreme" and "partisan message bills," rather than solving problems, highlighting how little lawmakers have accomplished before leaving town for a summer recess.
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Friday, Obama noted signs of economic progress, but argued that "we could be much further along" if the GOP had agreed to "even basic" elements of his agenda.
Obama pointed to Congress' failure to deal with the surge of young Central American immigrants arriving at the southern border. Lawmakers left this week without passing legislation to address the problem, although both Democrats and Republicans had declared it a top priority.
Obama's $3.7-billion proposal for bolstering efforts at the border died quickly in the divided Congress. Democrats in the Senate did not find the necessary 60 votes to pass a smaller version. And on Friday, Republican leaders in the House were still trying to pass a roughly $700-million plan, accompanied by changes in existing law to make deportations easier, although they knew it would not become law.
"As we speak, they are trying to pass the most extreme and unworkable version of a bill that they already know is going nowhere," Obama said. "They’re not even trying to solve the problem."
Seeking to get enough support in their own ranks to pass a bill, Republican leaders tweaked their legislation to appeal to conservatives. Conservatives in the House had revolted Thursday, arguing that the bill did too little to stem the flow of immigrants. The House leadership was loath to leave town for a five-week recess without at least passing a bill that could shield themselves from accusation that they could not act.
Obama took a swipe at them anyway.
"They can't even pass their own version of the bill," Obama said. "That's not a disagreement between me and the House Republicans. That's a disagreement between the House Republicans and the House Republicans."
The president noted a particularly awkward moment for Republicans, when leaders issued a statement Thursday calling on Obama to use his executive authority to address the issue. A day earlier, the House had voted to sue the president for executive overreach.
Congress' failure to act "means while they're out on vacation, I’m going to have to make some tough decisions to meet the challenge," Obama said. "I'm going to have to act alone."
A spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said the fault lay with the president, not Congress. Obama had been "completely AWOL" on immigration, spokesman Michael Steel said.
Administration officials have said that existing funds for the Homeland Security Department's Immigration and Customs Enforcement will dry up in mid-August. Customs and Border Protection expects a $400-million shortfall at the end of the fiscal year.
The administration will be forced to raid other budgets to make up the difference, probably taking money from other border security programs.
Roughly more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors have come to the U.S. since October. Many have fled poverty and violence in Central America.
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