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This Is a Big Day for Millions With Student Loans

A bipartisan bill to retain low interest rates for millions of student loans, and to fund a massive job-creating transportation bill and maintain national flood insurance won approval on Friday in the House of Representatives.

On a vote of 373-52, the House sent the measure to the Senate for anticipated approval later in the day. That would clear the way for President Barack Obama to sign it into law.

Both Democrats and Republicans embraced the measure, largely because it would create or save about 3 million jobs, a key issue in the Nov. 6 elections since voters’ top concern is the struggling U.S. economy.

The bill came together this week, as lawmakers calculated the election-year impact of gridlock on measures affecting soaring consumer debt, jobs 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 Rep. John Mica, 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 before the deadline for an increase in student loan rates and for a lapse in transportation funding.

The package prevents federal student loan interest rates from doubling to 6.8 percent on July 1 in a one-year, $6 billion deal.

The blueprint was based on a bipartisan proposal by the Democratic-led Senate and was supported by the Obama administration.

Ambitious proposals to shore up U.S. infrastructure gave way to a deal that basically keeps transportation funding at current levels.

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.

The bill also extends funding for the National Flood Insurance Program to Sept. 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 with reforms.

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.

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