Congress passes highway, student loan bill
TALK RADIO NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – Congress on Friday signed off on legislation that will keep student loan interest rates from doubling for one year and will extend the National Flood Insurance Program for five years and federal highway programs through 2014.
The bipartisan vote – 373-52 in the House and 74-19 in the Senate – is the product of a bicameral negotiation between Democrats and Republicans who were racing to beat multiple approaching deadlines.
The interest rate on Stafford Student Loans would have doubled from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent in July had Congress failed to reach an agreement. And funding for the nation’s federal highway programs would have ended creating uncertainty for thousands of construction workers across the country.
“This conference agreement means jobs, and it means that we will not have further layoffs,” House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) said on the House floor. “It means that we will continue to improve our economy, and when all is said and done, I would choose to vote for American jobs any day.”
Republicans and Democrats have been at odds for months trying to pass a highway bill. Democrats were critical of Republican efforts to include provisions that would have expedited the full construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and relaxed some of the EPA’s coal ash regulations.
The deal ends the streak of short-term highway extensions – nine in total – that have become all too familiar for some on Capitol Hill. The last long-term highway bill was approved in 2009.
The bill also reauthorizes the National Flood Insurance Program for five years. The program was set to expire July 30 and is the nation’s only supplier of flood insurance.
The one-year extension of student loan interest rates also stirred up its share of debate when Republicans offered to pay for the $6 billion measure by dipping in to a preventive care fund created as part of President Obama’s newly christened health law. Democrats instead offered to pay for the bill’s tab with an increase in revenues. The compromise legislators made allowed them to pay for the measure with increased revenue from changes made to corporate pensions.
“We have done this, we’re going to mark this moment,” said Senate Commerce and Transportation Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who along with Sen. James Inhoffe (R-Okla.), played an integral part in negotiating the deal.
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