But first, let’s have a totally worthless vote to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. Frankly, most of us are contemptuous of Congress these days and this is why…..
With both the funding for our nation’s infrastructure and the low interest rate for student loans running out on Saturday, Congress has finally, at last, with just three days to spare, reached compromises on both issues. Cliff-hanging drama queens doesn’t begin to describe this bunch of lunatics running the asylum.
To speed up the procedural molasses, the two bills will probably be combined and be voted on by both houses of Congress by recess on Friday. Lawmakers want to make it home for the electioneering kickoffs on the Fourth of July.
On the transportation bill, there were 1.9 million people facing layoffs on Monday, and other million who would not be hired if a new transportation bill was not passed. The sticking point was the stupid Keystone XL pipeline. The Republicans wanted it on the bill, as an amendment forcing immediate approval of the old route across the Kansas aquifer, to use as an attack on President Obama for “blocking creation of 20,000 jobs!!!” that would not have been created. The pipeline approval is working its way through the administration in a manner designed to get it built without creating a potential environmental disaster for the center of the country. Pushing the approval is seen by the Republicans as both a means to damage the President and earn thumbs-up from their anti-environmentalist base. The amendment on the pipeline was dropped from the transportation bill, allowing Democrats to agree to vote for it.
The Republicans also agreed to leave out language that would block the EPA regulating the toxic ash from coal-fired power plants. The ash is sometimes used in the manufacturing of cement, and the EPA wants to limit the toxins in our concrete. Democrats agreed to cut in half the time set aside for environmental reviews for highway projects and limit the money available for bike paths and pedestrian walkways by making them compete with other projects for funding. States would get more flexibility in how they use the federal highway funds and how they impose new safety regulations. It also expands a federal loan guarantee for private investment transportation projects.
The bill set aside decisions about changing the funding for transportation projects. The unintended consequence of better fuel economy in our vehicles has created a shortfall in the amount of revenue generated by gas and diesel taxes, so they no longer cover all the costs of highway building. It will be two years before the Congress addresses the funding problem.
The bill to hold interest rates on student loans at current levels and not let them double on Sunday was a bit more complicated. It pivoted on funding for the student loan program itself.
The Republicans wanted to fund the student loans by cutting other programs. The Democrats wanted to raise revenues. In the end, the $6 billion will be reached by a combination of revenue raising and program cutting. Five billion will come from a change in the tax code relating to company pension systems. By changing the way pension contributions are calculated, the contributions will be more consistent from year to year and the tax deduction will be reduced. There will be an increase in fees paid by companies to the government to insure their pension systems, linking the fees to inflation. That will raise another $500 million. Then, another $1.2 billion will come from limiting federal subsidies for Stafford loans to six years for undergraduates. That last one needs to be better explained, because of the large number of non-traditional and returning students who attend part-time.
While they were at it, the negotiating group decided to reauthorize the national flood insurance program, which covers around 5.6 million homes and businesses. After Hurricane Katrina, the program had gone deeply into the red. The reauthorization would allow an increase in premiums and reduce subsidies for vacation homes as part of efforts to properly re-capitalize the system.
Oh My God!!! Three pieces of necessary legislation in just one week? Can Congress stand the strain of it???
But first on the House’s agenda for Thursday – cite Eric Holder for contempt so we can all dodge the bullet of being found inadequately supportive of our Second Amendment rights. The National Rifle Association, in its paranoid belief that a program initiated by the Bush administration is actually a cover for an Obama adminsitration attempt to impose new gun control legislation plans to give failing grades to any Congressperson or Senator who does not vote for Rep. Issa’s ludicrous contempt citation for the Attorney General. When asked about the allegation that the whole Fast and Furious program was a plot to take away our guns, Speaker Boehner danced a little verbal sidestep like the Governor in Best Little Whorehouse In Texas and gave a totally head-spinning answer that said nothing at all. He’s getting very good at those imitations of Charles Durning.
And the House will hold this unprecedented vote pretty much at the same time that Chief Justice Roberts is scheduled to put us all out of impatient misery over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, so we can get on to some other news stories.