Speaker John Boehner said this morning that a highway bill agreement will likely include a one-year extension of current student loan interest rates, a measure the two chambers have been separately working to reconcile.
“We’re moving, I think, towards an agreement on a transportation bill that would also include a one-year fix on the student loan rate increase scheduled to go into effect July 1,” the Ohio Republican told reporters.
“It’s not finished yet,” he added, “but it is clear that there are significant reforms in this bill, which will reduce the number of programs funded out of the highway bill, streamline the regulatory process and allow us to focus our highway dollars on fixing American highways, not planting more flowers around the country.” The flowers comment refers to a small amount of funding that goes toward highway improvement and beautification programs.
Senate aides in both parties confirmed that the current state of negotiations suggested a final agreement could last more than two years, meaning lawmakers would extend highway spending authorizations until September 2014, and that the contentious Keystone XL pipeline and coal ash provisions had been dropped from the list of GOP demands.
In return, Democrats have included significant easing of environmental standards, especially when it comes to streamlining, the process by which project sites need to be reviewed before construction can begin. These same sources, however, emphasized that no deal was completed and the talks are still fragile.
House aides, however, would not go so far as to say a deal is complete, and when asked, House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica would not confirm that Keystone and coal ash are off the table.
“Nothing’s off the table until we file a bill tonight,” the Florida Republican said. “Everything’s in flux.”
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.