* Senate, House to vote on bill before July 4 break
* Mica-contains hard-fought compromises
* Conservative groups urge lawmakers to vote now
By John Crawley and Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON, June 29 The U.S. Congress was poised
on Friday to approve compromise legislation to fund
transportation programs for two more years, keep loan rates low
for millions of students, and maintain national flood insurance.
The bill came together this week, as lawmakers calculated
the election-year impact of continued gridlock on measures
affecting jobs, soaring consumer debt, and help for people who
need government underwriting for flood risk to buy a home.
"It has indeed been a very bumpy road to get to this point,"
said John Mica, the Republican chairman of the House
Transportation Committee, who led negotiations on the bill.
"I'm not particularly pleased with some of the twists and
turns," he said on the House floor on Friday, describing the
difficulties of reaching the deal in the gridlocked Congress.
After months of negotiations, the compromise was reached
just days away from the deadline for an increase in student loan
rates and for a lapse in transportation funding.
Ambitious proposals to shore up U.S. infrastructure gave
way to a deal that basically keeps transportation funding at
The blueprint was based on a bipartisan proposal by the
Democratic-led Senate and was supported by the Obama
administration. President Barack Obama was expected to quickly
sign the bill into law.
Two influential conservative groups - Heritage Action for
America and Club for Growth - said the programs were too
expensive and urged lawmakers to vote against the bill.
The federal government spends more than $50 billion annually
on road, bridge and transit construction projects. The last
transportation bill expired in 2009 and construction programs
have survived since through a series of short-term funding
extensions. The current one ends on Saturday.
STUDENT LOANS, FLOOD INSURANCE
The package also prevents federal student loan interest
rates from doubling to 6.8 percent on July 1 in a one-year, $6
The bill also extend funding for the National Flood
Insurance Program to September 30, 2017. It had been set to
expire at the end of July, in the middle of hurricane season.
The flood insurance program took on a massive debt load
during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and has been kept alive
through repeated short-term extensions as lawmakers struggle
Federal law requires that homes in designated flood-risk
areas have flood insurance before a mortgage can be completed.
Because the NFIP is effectively the only flood insurance
available in the United States, a lapse in the program would
mean home sales could not close in designated flood areas.