Congress Poised to Act on Highways, Student Loans
WASHINGTON (AP) - After being derided as a "do-nothing" Congress, the House and Senate moved Friday toward passage of a massive legislative package that overhauls highway and transit programs, salvages an estimated 3 million jobs and spares millions of students from higher interest rates on college loans.
Congressional leaders anticipated voting on the package, which also would financially shore up the federal flood insurance program, by early Friday afternoon. Two deadlines are looming: Federal highway and transit aid programs and the government’s authority to levy federal fuel taxes expire on Saturday, and interest rates on new student loans are set to double on Sunday. Lawmakers also were anxious to begin a weeklong recess.
The burst of legislating comes just four months before the November elections, giving lawmakers achievements to show off to voters who have increasingly held Congress in low esteem.
"It’s a jobs bill," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who led Senate negotiations on the transportation portion of the package. She estimated the bill would save about 1.8 million jobs by keeping aid for highway and transit construction flowing to states and create another 1 million jobs by using federal loan guarantees to leverage private sector investment in infrastructure projects.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., didn’t wait for final passage of the measure to claim credit for a share of those jobs. A statement issued Thursday by his office touted the $400 million in transportation aid Montana would receive and the 13,500 highway jobs in his state the money would support.
"I worked hard to make sure Montana had a seat at the table and I’m proud that we were able to get the job done for Montana families," Baucus said.
In the bargaining that led up to an agreement on the package earlier this week, House Republicans gave up their demands that the bill require approval of the contentious Keystone XL oil pipeline and block federal regulation of toxic waste generated by coal-fired power plants. Democrats gave ground on environmental protections and biking, pedestrian and safety programs.
"Critical reforms in this legislation consolidate our transportation programs, significantly streamline the bureaucratic project process, encourage private sector participation in building infrastructure and give states more flexibility to spend limited highway ... resources where they are most needed," said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.