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Congress Could Combine Student Loan, Highway Funding Bills

There’s still been nary a peep from Congress on deals on the two major expiring measures that conclude at the end of the week, one on transportation funding and another on federal student loan interest rates. All we know is that Harry Reid has threatened to keep the Senate in session over the weekend to get the work done. Technically speaking, the measures expire on June 30, which is Saturday, so that does afford an extra day for passage.

“I’m putting my colleagues on notice,” Reid said on the Senate floor Monday. “The Senate will stay as long as we have to, into the weekend if necessary, to complete this substantial workload.

“We hope there will be cooperation – not only in this body but also in the House of Representatives,” Reid continued. “I alert everyone that we have a lot to do.”

We keep hearing about a Senate deal on the interest rates, but nobody has seen any text or a formal announcement. Meanwhile, the latest buzz is that the bills will get packaged together, along with a bill extending the federal flood insurance program, which also expires at the end of the month (WSJ puts it lovingly that the flood insurance bill would “drive up” premiums). This is what Dick Durbin had to say yesterday:

“What it appears we are trying to do now is put everything in a package that would include the transportation bill, the student loan bill and possibly flood insurance re-authorization,” Durbin said. “All three have July 1 deadlines so it is possible all three will be combined and voted on as early as tomorrow.”

How will it be funded? Well, that’s complicated, Durbin said, involving “smoothing” out the way the IRS handles pensions and also getting stricter about interest beginning to accumulate on the student loans a year after the student leaves college, Durbin said.

John Kyl, number 2 in the Senate leadership on the Republican side, confirmed the idea of a combination bill, a “mini-bus,” if you will, of at least the student loan and highway measures. But it’s not yet clear what they would look like. And all of these negotiations are happening in the Senate, seemingly without the involvement of the House leadership on the Republican side, at least.

So I’ll believe it when I see the mini-bus go on the Congressional calendar.

UPDATE: Here’s a firmer announcement, but take note of the highlighted portion:

Senate leaders say they have a deal on student loan legislation, pending approval by House Republicans, who have unexpectedly balked at Senate deals before.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Tuesday that there is an agreement on student loans and now the question is what type of legislative vehicle to use to pass it through Congress.

One option is to attach it to a two-year transportation authorization bill, which is nearing completion in Senate-House conference. A senior GOP aide said “odds and ends” remain to be resolved […]

A senior Democratic aide said he was leery about calling the student loan bill a done deal until Tea Party Republicans in the House had weighed in.

Well, it’s not like House Republicans have a reputation for being unreasonable or anything.

Meanwhile, Rand Paul stopped action on the flood insurance bill when he tried to attach a fetal personhood amendment to it. That would be the libertarian “keep government out of the bedroom” type, Rand Paul.

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David Dayen

David Dayen