Battling over a transportation bill that now also addresses student-loan interest rates, congressional lawmakers are scrambling to appease their constituents in a legislative boondoggle littered with election-year politics. Aimed for final passage this week, the legislation would — among a slew of other provisions — extend federal highway funding, prevent new student-loan interest rates from doubling, and renew and revise federal flood insurance.
If Congress does not reach a decision by Saturday, the federal government’s ability to administer road, mass transit, and other transportation-related programs will be vanquished, along with its authority to impose the gasoline taxes that subsidize most of those programs.
Congressional leaders in both the House and Senate reached a deal Wednesday on the transportation and student loan provisions of the legislation, deciding that combining them into one bill will help expedite the legislative process. In terms of the highway portion of the bill, Republicans folded on a provision that would force federal approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and another that would prohibit the government from imposing regulations on toxic ash emitted by coal-fired power plants.
Meanwhile, Democrats offered a compromise that would grant states the authority to opt out of spending funds on nonroad-related projects, such as bike and pedestrian paths. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday morning that “it is clear that there are significant reforms in this bill, which will reduce the number of programs funded out of the highway bill, streamline the regulatory process and allow us to focus our highway dollars on fixing America’s highways, not planting more flowers around the country.”
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Photo: Capitol Building in Washington DC via Shutterstock