BY THE FREE PRESS (MANKATO, MINN.)
---- — For months, Democrats and Republicans in Washington fought tooth-and-nail over a transportation bill, despite the fact that everyone agreed one was needed. There hadn't been a major transportation bill since 2005. And in case you haven't noticed, jobs are needed all across the country these days, along with improvements in infrastructure.
And so, self-congratulatory hugs were in order ... when the House and Senate finally approved a $105 billion bill designed to maintain highway and transit spending at current levels through 2014.
Who says national lawmakers can't work together? The bill also halts the doubling of interest rates for millions of college loans that was due to hit millions of students. ... Approval was solid: 373-52 in the House and 74-19 in the Senate.
It was a rare display of bipartisanship, news reports gushed. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, said it was evidence "that we can work together." In truth, deadlines and political pressure got it done. June 30 was the date the last funding extension expired. Neither party wanted to withstand the election-year wrath of voters anxious to get back to work on projects that are past due.
All of the measures passed in the package are both popular and necessary. Included is an agreement that 3.4 percent interest rates for subsidized Stafford loans for college undergraduates will stay in place for one more year. It was a move that simply had to be made, and just in the nick of time.
Also included is money to fast-track bus and rail projects in heavy-traffic regions, money to renew the federal flood insurance program, and funds to combat the invasion of Asian carp in Great Lakes waters.
This much-anticipated bill was held up largely due to disagreements on how much we can afford to spend in this deficit-ridden economy. But in the end, both parties compromised. Democrats dropped their desire for more bicycle, pedestrian and beautification projects, and Republicans gave up trying to force the issue on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project.
Not everyone went away happy. But in the end, most got what they wanted: political cover in an election year. Americans got something even better: a transportation bill that addressed pressing concerns.
-- The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.