Well, wonder of wonders, the Republican Tea Party (GOTP) dominated House buckled under and approved legislation preserving jobs on transportation projects from coast to coast and avoiding interest rate increases on new loans to millions of college students. The bill, which then sailed through the Democratic controlled Senate (for once with no threats of GOTP filibusters), was then sent for the President’s signature.
With the bill’s passage, just over $100 billion can now be spent on highway, mass transit and other transportation programs over the next two years, projects that would’ve expired Saturday without congressional action; it also ends the stalemate over student loans.
Under the bill, interest rates of 3.4 percent for subsidized Stafford loans for undergraduates will continue for another year, had the uber-right Tea Party members had their way, interest rates would have mushroomed to 6.8 percent for 7.4 million students expected to get the loans over the coming year, adding an extra $1,000 to the average cost of each loan.
The Democratic-led Senate passed the measure by a 74-19 vote, after the GOTP-run House approved it 373-52; with all the no votes – of course – being cast by the uber-right conservative members of the Congress.
The final version of the transportation measure dropped a provision – which had drawn a Presidential veto threat – that would have forced government approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Texas coast.
According to the Associated Press (AP), White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration was glad Congress acted “before middle class families pay the price for inaction.” He said President Obama will keep pressing for approval of more of his job-creating proposals from last year, to hire teachers, police officers and firefighters and for tax credits to companies that hire new workers.
Financing for most of the measure came from extending federal taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel for an additional two years which levies, unchanged for nearly two decades, are 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel and which fall woefully short of fully financing the highway programs they were designed to do.
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. In return, a formula was changed to, in effect; let companies apportion less money for their pensions and to provide less year-to-year variation in those amounts.
Additional revenues will be raised by charging interest on subsidized Stafford loans no more than six years after undergraduates begin their studies.
A loophole was also tightened making it harder for businesses with roll-your-own cigarette machines to classify the tobacco they sell as pipe tobacco – which is taxed at a lower rate than cigarette tobacco. The change is expected to raise nearly $100 million.
The measure also extends Federal flood insurance programs that protect 5.6 million households and businesses, allowing higher premiums and limiting subsidies for vacation homes to help address a shortfall in the program caused by claims from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
It also steers 80 percent of the billions in Clean Water Act penalties paid by BP and others for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion to the five Gulf States whose beaches and waters were soiled by the disaster. The money would have otherwise gone to federal coffers.
Federal timber subsidies worth $346 million would be distributed for another year to rural counties, while other funds would be steered to rural school districts.
No matter how this is sliced it’s a victory for the President and a loss for the GOTP, particularly for the uber-right Tea Party; it’s one more victory in a week of victories which saw the Supreme Court’s overturning of the most controversial parts of Arizona’s papers please bill and the upholding of the Affordable Care Act. Try though they might, spinning this beyond their own will be extremely difficult.