Highway bill passes in Congress, halts student loan rate hike image

Finally, Congress passed legislation Friday designed to salvage 2.8 million jobs and shield students from a sharp increase in loan interest rates.

“We have a bill that will boost this economy. We have a bill that is supported by conservatives and liberals, progressives and moderates. I think it’s a great day,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who led Senate negotiations on the transportation portion of the package.

The House vote was 373 to 52 with every Democratic lawmaker who voted supporting the measure. Not as many Republicans as some had predicted voted against the legislation, though many of those who did cited concerns over the cost of the package.

The bill, HR4348, authorizes the Highway Trust Fund and its programs for fiscal years 2013 and 2014. HR4348 is also being referred to as MAP-21, or “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century.” The bill originated in the Senate.
The bill also aims at shoring up the federal flood insurance program.

The bill would spend more than $100 billion on highway and transit programs over two years.
The fuel taxes are not indexed for inflation and haven’t been increased since 1993, so their buying power has steadily eroded.

The student loan measure will keep interest rates at the current 3.4% rate, which was set to double to 6.8% on Sunday.

Most of the overall measure was financed by extending federal taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel for two more years. About $20 billion would be raised over the next decade by reducing tax deductions for companies’ pension contributions and increasing the fees they pay to federally insure their pension plans.

One important think: The bill, as approved Friday, does have new bus safety requirements and will require automakers to encourage back-seat passengers to wear their seat belts.