So Congress did something. The Highway bill passes

So much for the theory that Congress can’t get anything done, eh? While the nation was fixated on the Supreme Court decisions, Hillary Clinton backstabbing the president and Aaron Sorkin’s future as the ruler of the world, the folks on The Hill quietly slipped through one piece of what should have been news. They passed a bill.

Congress on Friday approved legislation that will extend federal highway programs through 2014, a low interest rate on student loans for one year, and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for five years.

Leaders in the House and Senate negotiated the giant package, leaving no doubt that it would have enough support to pass. The bill will likely be the last major piece of legislation approved by Congress until after the November elections.

The House voted 373-52 in favor of the bill, which was supported by every voting Democrat, while 52 Republicans opposed it. In the Senate, the tally was 74-19, with 23 Republicans joining every Democrat in voting for the measure. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) voted present, while Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) missed the vote.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Obama looks forward to signing the bill.

Hot Air is, sadly, unable to afford the budget for fainting couches for all of you, nor to cover the medical bills of those injured doing trust falls while we all play Bob Dylan’s greatest hits.

So, what got done with this?

The highway portion of the bill authorizes spending of about $120 billion through 2014, and funds most of that by extending various fuel and highway taxes. But because those taxes don’t fully cover planned spending, the bill raises new revenues from companies by making changes to the way corporate pensions are calculated, and by increasing premiums paid to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

The vote also ends a long streak without a long-term highway bill. The last transportation bill that was approved by Congress was supposed to expire in September 2009, when former Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) ran the Transportation Committee in the House. Instead, the measure was temporarily extended nine times, including the latest three-month appropriation that was scheduled to expire on Saturday.

Unfortunately there were more than a few babies that got thrown out with the bathwater. I agree that the transportation bill includes a number of items affecting interstate transportation which need to be taken care of. But the provision for passing the Keystone XL pipeline was dumped. Further, any idea of seriously paying for the cost was washed away under the highly dubious umbrella of altering “how corporate pensions are collected.”

Also, the bill extends a discount on student loans. Very nice if you’re a student or person paying those bills I’m sure, but it fails to address the “who will pay for this” portion of the question. Then again, it’s an election year and I guess we don’t want a bunch of angry young voters showing up at the polls, do we?

Yet again, when I see language in a massive spending bill phrased in that way, my first instinct is to reach for my back pocket and see if my wallet is still there. We needed to get this work done, but this bill represented a chance for Congress to get together and demonstrate that they’ve learned the lessons of elections past and could actually tell us how they plan to pay for it with our money. For the sake of the jobs involved and the work which needs to be done, I’m glad they managed to pass something. But the larger test was failed yet again.