Congressional leaders anticipated voting on the package, which also would financially shore up the federal flood insurance program, by early Friday afternoon. Two deadlines are looming: Federal highway and transit aid programs and the government's authority to levy federal fuel taxes expire on Saturday, and interest rates on new student loans are set to double on Sunday. Lawmakers also were anxious to begin a weeklong recess.
The burst of legislating comes just four months before the November elections, giving lawmakers achievements to show off to voters who have increasingly held Congress in low esteem.
"It's a jobs bill," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who led Senate negotiations on the transportation portion of the package. She estimated the bill would save about 1.8 million jobs by keeping aid for highway and transit construction flowing to states and create another 1 million jobs by using federal loan guarantees to leverage private sector investment in infrastructure projects.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., didn't wait for final passage of the measure to claim credit for a share of those jobs. A statement issued Thursday by his office touted the $400 million
"I worked hard to make sure Montana had a seat at the table and I'm proud that we were able to get the job done for Montana families," Baucus said.
In the bargaining that led up to an agreement on the package earlier this week, House Republicans gave up their demands that the bill require approval of the contentious Keystone XL oil pipeline and block federal regulation of toxic waste generated by coal-fired power plants. Democrats gave ground on environmental protections and biking, pedestrian and safety programs.