After numerous extensions and increased doubt that anything would get done prior to this year’s election, Congress stepped up and passed a new highway bill on June 30.
The House approved legislation, which bundled about $102 billion for highway funding through 2014, a one-year extension on a low interest rate for student loans and a five-year extension of the National Flood Insurance Program, by a 373-52 count. The Senate passed the package a couple hours later by a 74-19 margin. President Barack Obama was expected to sign the work into law immediately. The latest extension to SAFETEA-LU was set to expire June 30.
Neither side was completely happy with the compromise of the highway measure. The Democrats wanted tougher Buy America provisions and did not approve of language making it easier for projects to clear environmental roadblocks, while the Republicans dropped a measure that would require approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.
“I was overwhelmed with the amazing vote we had,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chairs the Committee on Environmental and Public Works, said on the Senate floor shortly after the vote. “This sends a tremendous signal to the people of America that we can work together; do not give up hope.
“What kept us all going is we know how hard the construction sector has been hit. The transportation sector was hurting; the construction sector was hurting. This was the answer.”
The bill authorizes spending of approximately $102 billion over the next two years, and most of it would be covered by extending various fuel and highway taxes. New revenues also were created by changing the way corporate pensions are calculated and by increases in premiums paid to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.
“It is good to be at this point in the completion of a long overdue transportation reform bill,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. “A lot of people said it could not be done.”