Tentative Deal On Transportation Reached

House and Senate negotiators are said to have reached a deal to fund highway projects for the next two years. The latest temporary highway bill extension is set to expire Saturday, and for weeks negotiators have been trying to smooth out the differences between House and Senate versions.

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In Washington, House and Senate negotiators have reached a deal to fund highway and transportation projects for the next two years. This averts what could have been a dramatic shutdown after years of temporary extensions. The Senate could vote as soon as today, with the House likely to vote Friday.

NPR's Tamara Keith has details.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The latest temporary highway bill extension is set to expire Saturday, and for weeks negotiators have been trying to smooth out the differences between House and Senate versions. Florida Republican John Mica heads the House Transportation Committee, and says there were many late nights at the negotiating table.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN MICA: It's been a long tough battle but it probably - I think it will be the bill that will put more people to work in the next two years than anything Congress does this year.

KEITH: The bill will continue highway and transportation funding at current levels through the end of the 2014 fiscal year, and allows the government to continue collecting gas taxes. Mica says a multi-year extension is way overdue.

MICA: The public just cannot wait, nor can jobs, and the construction industry. We had to provide some stability.

KEITH: Unlike past highway bills this one isn't chock full of earmarks. Mica says there isn't a single one.

House Republicans wanted to use the bill to force quick approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, something Democrats wouldn't support. Keystone is now out. And in exchange, Democrats made concessions on funding for bike lanes and sidewalks. Now states can opt out and use that money for roads if they choose.

Democrats also agreed to allow streamlined approval of some transportation projects. Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio, a member of the conference committee, says it was worth it.

REPRESENTATIVE PETER DEFAZIO: This is a real bill. It's not a talking point. It will affect millions of Americans, put a lot of people back to work, so I am glad they dropped that.

KEITH: The highway funding bill was combined with a deal to extend reduced interest rates on federally subsidized student loans, and a measure to reauthorize the federal flood insurance program. This mega bill contains a little of something for just about everyone to like and dislike. And assuming it passes, it will allow members of Congress to head home for the 4th of July recess with accomplishments to point to.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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