Congress Set to Vote on New Highway Funding Bill
President Obama has pushed for it as a way to boost job growth in the construction industry
CNN Wire Staff
June 29, 2012WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Amid some of the most heated partisan battles of recent years, Congress is expected Friday to pass a giant transportation funding bill as a part of a package with a measure holding down interest rates on federal student loans.
Both the House and the Senate planned to vote on the package before heading home for the July 4 holiday.
Compromises on the transportation bill and the student loan issue, as well as a third component reauthorizing national flood insurance, came in rare bipartisan agreement during the same week that House Republicans enraged Democrats by voting to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
Passing the package let Congress beat looming deadlines, with highway repair funding and the lower student loan rates set to expire on June 30.
The $109 billion transportation bill funds construction for highways, bridges and other transportation projects for two years in every state and congressional district in the nation. President Barack Obama has pushed for it as a way to boost job growth in the construction industry, and both parties expressed interest in reaching a deal.
Still, approval of the measure would mark a significant accomplishment for legislators. In recent years, Congress was only able to agree on a series of short-term extensions of the previous transportation bill passed in 2005.
Aides predicted the final bill would get large bipartisan majorities, although some Republicans were likely to oppose the measure because they think it costs too much.
Both parties had to compromise on core issues.
Republicans dropped language that would have approved the Keystone XL pipeline and prevented the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating harmful coal ash waste from power plants.
Democrats were forced to accept GOP demands to streamline and speed up the federal review process of construction projects.
Republicans said doing so would cut permitting times in half. They also got reforms that would allow states to opt out of federal mandates to spend highway dollars on bike paths and highway beautification projects. Doing so, Republicans said, would allow states to spend more on critical infrastructure projects.
Although the agreement includes many of the reforms the House GOP pushed for, it falls far short of the broader transportation and energy bill that House Speaker John Boehner unveiled earlier this year.
Boehner, R-Ohio, framed that initial proposal -- which combined road and bridge projects with provisions promoting greater domestic energy production such as more drilling on public lands and approval of the Keystone XL pipeline -- as a major jobs bill.
However, internal GOP divisions forced House Republican leaders to pull the measure and it never got a floor vote. The energy portions of the bill did pass the House, but none of those were included in the final measure negotiated with the Senate.
CNN's Ted Barrett, Deirdre Walsh and Tom Cohen contributed to this report.