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On Capitol Hill, Lawmakers Find Way To Compromise


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block. Here's some evidence that things can still get done on Capital Hill. Today, both the House and Senate passed a compromise bill to reauthorize highway and infrastructure projects and keep student loan interest rates from going up.

Without a deal, many of these programs would have expired tomorrow. And, even though lawmakers ran right up to the deadline, NPR's Andrea Seabrook says, for this Congress, it happened at lightning speed.

ANDREA SEABROOK, BYLINE: After the badgering, contemptful skirmishes of the last 18 months, the bickering and biting belligerence, watching today's actions in Congress, it felt like, who are these people?

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE DOYLE: I want to congratulate my good friend and Republican manager, Joe Barton, on a hard fought game. Enjoy it while you can because it won't last forever. You can't win every game.


DOYLE: But congratulations and a job well done on both sides.

BARTON: Thank you.


SEABROOK: OK, OK. Texas Republican Joe Barton and Pennsylvania Democrat Mike Doyle were talking about last night's Congressional baseball game. The Democrats won, by the way, but this surprisingly light and collegial mood spilled over into actual policy debate.

REPRESENTATIVE JAIME HERRERA BEUTLER: This is a symbol of how Congress is supposed to operate and why we're here.

SEABROOK: Washington Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler is a young rising star in the Republican Party. She's talking about the bill to keep federal highway and infrastructure money flowing and to keep interest rates low on student loans.

BEUTLER: We were able to work in a bipartisan bicameral way to produce something that has direct impact on the lives of the folks I serve in southwest Washington.

SEABROOK: This was echoed over and over again in the House, pats on the back, congratulations all around. It was more like the Oscars than the House of Representatives. The bill renews the federal gasoline tax and sends that money back to states for road construction and other infrastructure projects. That alone could keep some 2.8 million people employed.

The deal also re-ups the federal flood insurance program and keeps student loan interest rates low for another year. Of course, there were those who opposed the bill, mostly because of its $120 billion price tag and how that would be paid for.

Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

SENATOR RAND PAUL: We have a shell game up here. We say one thing's going to pay for it. Now, this is going to pay for it. Money disappears.

SEABROOK: But here's the thing. When a deal gets the support of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist...

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: This bill is enormously important. It is an excellent start.

SEABROOK: And the support of Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe...

SENATOR JAMES INHOFE: Voting for this is a conservative approach.

SEABROOK: Then it's pretty much unstoppable and that's what the final votes showed. In the House, it passed 373 to 52. In the Senate, the vote was 74 to 19. Just as quickly as the bills moved through the chambers, the senators and representatives headed for the exits. Next week, they'll be on their 4th of July recess, the traditional kickoff time for summer campaigning in an election year. There are flags to wave, parades to ride in, fireworks to introduce and, after that, a return to Washington and the partisan battle lines of November.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.