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House approves three-month highway plan, veterans health change included

The John Cochran veterans facility on North Grand Boulevard.
Donna Korando | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 5:05 p.m. July 29 with House vote - Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have voted to keep the federal Highway Trust Fund operating until at least Oct. 29. In the same bill, lawmakers also approved an additional $3.4 billion to help the Department of Veterans Affairs fill a budget gap.  

The Senate is expected to approve the extension, even as it continues to work on its six-year highway bill. Leaders in both chambers say they will use this extension to work toward a multi-year bill when they return from break.

The short-term House bill does not include language to revive the now closed Export-Import Bank. The bank’s charter expired in June. An overwhelming majority of senators voted to add the language to the Senate road plan. By passing their bill, senators hope to use it when the two chambers attempt to work out their differences in crafting a multi-year transportation plan.

Conservative, mostly tea party, Republicans want the Bank to remain closed, but supporters in both parties say the services the bank offers to businesses of all sizes mean jobs for Americans.

Original article — The U.S. House is scheduled to vote today on a three-month extension to the federal Highway Trust Fund, before representatives hit the road for their five-week August break. Tuesday, Republican leaders in both chambers tried to put a positive spin on their differences after House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., announced that he would not give the Senate’s six-year road plan a vote. The bill is more than 1,000 pages long.

Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt says that while he’s disappointed the Senate’s plan stalled and that lawmakers will be voting on the 34th short-term extension since 2009, he’s also confident that this will be the last short-term fix for many years to come.  Blunt says leaders in both chambers are committed to using this extension to work out details for a “five or six year bill.”

Without congressional action, the Highway Trust Fund would shut down at the end of the week.

In addition to keeping federal road dollars going to the states for the next few months, Blunt says the House bill is expected to contain language giving veterans more options in seeking medical care at private facilities closer to home, rather than traveling to more distant VA health-care facilities. Blunt says the language clarifies what lawmakers had wanted in a previous effort to give veterans more choices, but he says the Department of Veterans Affairs interpreted their earlier language in a more restrictive manner than intended.

Blunt says the department “shouldn’t use some obstacle, like the 40-mile facility obstacle, whether that facility offered what the veteran needed or not” to force veterans to use VA facilities. He says, “it was that kind of foolishness that I think is an indication that the VA has not been as serious as they need to be about serving veterans.”  

Blunt is a vocal critic of the department and says giving veterans more options will give them access to better health care services.  

While the House is scheduled to leave town after approving the short-term highway bill with added language for veterans, the Senate is scheduled to be in session through next week.  

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