By NEMS Daily Journal
Passage on Friday by Congress of a complex bill containing funding and authorization for three high-visibility issues bore the imprint of the congressional delegation representing Northeast Mississippi.
Sens. Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, and U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, all Republicans, voted for bipartisan conference reports containing a new, two-year transportation program, a five-year reauthorization of the Federal Flood Insurance Program, and a one-year guarantee that a widely used student college loan program’s interest rate stays at 3.4 percent, rather than doubling to 6.8 percent.
All three programs faced either imminent expiration or additional extensions in lieu of new program approvals.
The transportation bill – named Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, and called MAP-21 – is of tangible importance to all states, including Mississippi. It authorizes revenue for 27 months to fund the Highway Trust Fund, the largest source of money for road construction in states like Mississippi, the Interstate Highway System, and mass transit.
Relief among transportation officials and the private sector was widespread because the bill funds projects which, in turn, provide jobs.
“I am very pleased with the passage of this bill,” said Mike Tagert, Northern District transportation commissioner. “The passage of this bill removes the uncertainty of highway projects that would otherwise be delayed.”
The reauthorization of federal highway programs extends through September 2014 and is the longest extension since the last long-term authorization expired in 2009.
MAP-21 retains the RESTORE Act, which was added to the bill in March. Spearheaded by Wicker and supported by Cochran and Nunnelee, it establishes a Gulf Coast Restoration Fund to provide Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Texas with 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines on BP related to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. These funds will be available for locally-directed restoration projects.
The Flood Insurance Reauthorization Bill (S.1940), a five-year reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), is immensely important in Mississippi, which has large tracts in flood plains.
MAP-21 provides funding for federal-aid highway and transit programs authorizes a total of $105.2 billion, including $40.968 billion for highway programs in Fiscal Year 2013 and $41.025 billion for FY2014. The bill does not include any earmarks but provides flexibility.
Wicker noted that the bills passed with strong bipartisan support and said he hopes for more.
Narrow partisanship, practiced by both parties, rarely works to the greatest good.