In an unusual show of bipartisan compromise and agreement, the Congress passed a bill Friday designating additional funds to highway and transport infrastructure, halting a hike of student loan interest rates and shoring up federal flood protection programs.
The bill, which passed 74-19 in the Senate Friday afternoon, approves a $120 billion, 27-month package to fund highway and transport projects and also preserves a 3.4 percent cap on Stafford student loan interest rates. The bill also extends the federal flood insurance program.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hailed the passage Friday, saying, "This legislation proves that when Republicans decide to work with Democrats, we can do a lot to move our economy forward."
"In the coming weeks, we should remain focused on legislation that creates jobs and helps our economic recovery," he added. "I hope this bipartisan cooperation will continue as we move forward with a tax cut for small business owners that will spur job creation and boost the middle class."
Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation Chairman Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., also praised the bipartisan effort, highlighting how the "bill provides a measure of relief to college students who are already burdened with heavy student loan debt."
"Congress must continue working to make sure that college is accessible to middle class families and students who are the future leaders of America," he added in his statement.
Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Penn., one of the key Republican negotiators on the House bill, also expressed his happiness at the bill's passage.
"This bicameral, bipartisan agreement that brings much needed reform and consolidation to our transportation programs, streamlines the transportation project approval process, and gives states more flexibility to address their critical priorities," Shuster said.
Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said, "Probably millions would have been put out of work if we hadn't acted," adding the compromise hadn't been easy. "It doesn't have everything," he said.
In the agreement leading to the bill's passage, both Democrats and Republicans compromised on key policy issues. Republicans dropped a requirement to approve the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline, while Democrats gave up certain environmental protections and beautification projects.
On the transportation section of the bill, the two sides agreed to cut and consolidate transport programs by 2/3 and allow states more control on how they spend federal transport funds. It also included increased transportation safety guidelines.
On student loans, the bill halted the doubling to 6.8 percent of Stafford loan interest rates intended to take place on July 1st, which would have cost students an average additional $1,000 over the life of their loan repayment.
The bill will now head to President Barack Obama's desk for his signature.
by RTT Staff Writer
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