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Mr. LANGEVIN. Madam Speaker, a rare thing has happened today. Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate have reached a compromise for the greater good of the American people. Today we will vote on three critical measures: a long-term transportation extension, a long-term flood insurance extension, and a one-year continuation of current rates for need-based student loans.
Each of these is of critical importance to our nation's economic recovery. This legislation will create or save more than 2 million jobs, including approximately 9,000 in Rhode Island, by authorizing highway and transit programs through 2014.
Unfortunately, in order to secure an agreement, the conferees included some provisions in this bill with which I disagree. I am disappointed that the legislation threatens critical environmental funding and protections and fails to expand funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides matching grants for our state to acquire land and water for the benefit of all Rhode Islanders. I will work to restore these resources in the future, but on balance this is a good agreement that will benefit communities and workers across our state.
I am also pleased that this measure prevents the Stafford loan interest rate from doubling to 6.8 percent on July 1 for 7 million college students, saving them $1,000 over the life of their loans. However, I am concerned that the bill cuts the student loan program by limiting the amount of time a student qualifies for a loan to 150 percent of the program's length and eliminates the six-month interest subsidy grace period after a student has graduated. Too many students--especially those from low-income families--face unnecessary barriers to pursuing a college degree, and it is our responsibility to empower them by investing in their education.
Thousands of jobs in Rhode Island have been on hold, waiting for Congress to act This delay was needless, and this legislation is long overdue. Nowhere is our nation's fragile recovery more apparent than in my home state of Rhode Island, with an unemployment rate of 11 percent. I applaud the Conferees for their tireless efforts to craft this compromise, which will bring loan relief to our students, provide flood insurance to our homeowners, and allow our states and cities to move forward on the path to rebuilding our roads, our communities, and our economy.
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