US lawmakers reach transportation deal

By Richard Cowan and Roberta Rampton, Reuters

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers from the U.S. Congress cut a deal on a massive transportation bill on Wednesday, ending seven weeks of talks just days before federal funding expires for roads, bridges and mass-transit projects. “I am so glad that House Republicans met Democrats half way, as Senate Republicans did months ago,” Senator Barbara Boxer, who led the talks, said in a statement. Boxer gave few details of the massive bill, which was a big priority for both parties ahead of Nov. 6 elections because it supports an estimated 3 million jobs. John Mica, who led House Republicans in the talks, said the bill would keep funding at current levels through the end of fiscal 2014 — a year longer than originally proposed by the Senate, giving more certainty to state governments planning big projects. However, a Republican proposal forcing quick approval of the Canada-to-U.S. Keystone oil pipeline will not be part of the package, a senior Democratic aide said.

“Keystone is out,” said the aide, who asked not to be identified. A House Republican leadership aide declined to comment on specific provisions, but said Republicans “got some important wins” and improved the funding package originally passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate. The package is also expected to include a one-year, US$6 billion fix to prevent a doubling of interest rates on federal student loans. Funding for the National Flood Insurance Program might also be wrapped in, senators said on Wednesday. The package must now pass formal votes in the Senate and House and be signed by President Barack Obama by Saturday. Keystone Was Major Hurdle