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U.S. Senate passes county payment extension

Washington, DC -- The U.S. Senate passed the conference report of the transportation bill, which includes a fix that will stop the doubling of student loan rates, as well a one-year extension of county payments and the reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program.
   “The passage of this bill, which paves the road for investments in our transportation system, is long overdue,” said U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). “It creates a lot of Oregon construction jobs and keeps projects in gear to fix bottlenecks across the state. The student loan provision in the bill -- keeping interest at 3.4 percent -- is a big win. And vital to our timber counties, the bill extends the Secure Rural Schools program to keep cops, teachers and health care professionals on the job.”
   The conference report includes several provisions Senator Merkley championed. One is a fix to the segmentation loophole in the Buy American program. Because of this provision, construction projects can no longer be split up into multiple projects in order to evade Buy America requirements. The report also includes his bipartisan Merkley-Toomey provision to allow farmers and ranchers to use their farm trucks to move their goods to market without triggering regulations for long-haul truckers.
   In addition, the bill continues the National Flood Insurance Program, which was set to expire this summer. Because residents of high-hazard areas are required by mortgage lenders to buy flood insurance, this continuation allows home sales to continue in those areas, in addition to assuring protection for communities in the most dangerous flood-prone areas. The original version passed by the Banking Committee had a provision that required residents behind existing levees to buy flood insurance for the first time. Senator Merkley had concerns about this provision and supported a change proposed by Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) that removed it in the final version passed today.