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Congress sends student loan and transportation package to Obama

 

Updated 2:12 p.m. - Congress ended months of partisan bickering on Friday by passing and sending to President Barack Obama a comprehensive extension of highway and infrastructure projects, along with a one-year extension of low student loan rates that were set to double.

The House voted 373 to 52 to approve a $120 billion, 27-month bill to fund highway projects. Attached to that bill was the student loan extension, which prevented rates from doubling from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1.

The Senate approved the package shortly thereafter in a 74-19 vote. The legislation now heads to the White House for the president's signature.

The package lumps together some of the biggest stumbling blocks to beguile lawmakers in the past few months. Squabbling over how to finance each priority had divided the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-run Senate.

Republicans had also insisted on including a measure to move the Keystone XL oil pipeline forward. President Obama and Democrats opposed it, though, and it was ultimately omitted from today’s bill.

Instead, Republicans were able to use funds set aside for "beautification, bike paths, and sidewalk lighting" for higher priority infrastructure projects such as the national highway system instead.  They were also able to keep funding at current levels.

The package also cuts the average review and permitting process for new infrastructure projects in half, done mostly by streamlining environmental reviews so they can run concurrently, something for which Republicans had also fought.