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In keeping student loan rates low, Congress sends hidden message

The House and Senate passed measures to address student loan rates, transportation funding, and flood insurance, showing that when Congress wants to get things done, it can. 

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In this Aug. 2011 photo students attend graduation ceremonies at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Butch Dill/AP

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Congress scored a trio of legislative accomplishments Friday afternoon, as both houses approved measures authorizing transportation funding for the next two years, kept interest rates low on federal student loans for another year, and reauthorized a flood-insurance program for five years.

In the House, the combined measures passed 373 to 52. Only Republicans, spurred on by fiscally conservative activist groups, voted "no." In the Senate, the measure passed 74 to 19, again with only Republicans in opposition.

The day’s action showcased the legislators' campaign-season needs: to show that they can get something done, even as both sides look to smear their political opponents whenever possible.

Take student loans, with a measly (for Congress) $6 billion price tag. The aim was to prevent interest rates on federally subsidized student loans from jumping from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent come July. Both sides had agreed that they wanted to do that from the moment the issue was broached in May.

Then Democrats (led by President Obama) and Republicans spent the intervening six weeks sniping at one another for not being serious about helping America’s college students. Each side offered up a nonstarter proposal to pay for the measure – Republicans to eliminate a preventive health-care fund from Mr. Obama’s health-care reform law, and Democrats to close a tax loophole allowing some wealthy individuals to avoid payroll taxes.

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