U.S. Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL-13th) today endorsed a compromise plan to hasten passage of three of the suburban lawmaker's top legislative priorities, including an extension of lower student loan rates, reform of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), and a long-term transportation bill. According to House and Senate leaders, months of negotiations have yielded a potential agreement that would package the three bills together for a vote today and speed them to the President's desk. Biggert was the sponsor of both the House student loan and flood reform proposals, and has been a vocal advocate for bipartisan compromise on the Senate's version of a pending highway bill.
"We have three major economic priorities all facing tight statutory deadlines," said Biggert, who holds senior positions on the committees that handle both student loans and flood insurance. "Sometimes, it's easier to achieve compromise when you encourage your colleagues to look at the big picture. Reforming the NFIP will restore financial security to the flood program, which yields savings for taxpayers and stability in the housing market. At the same time, we're extending affordable loan rates for our students and federal road funds. These are all critical issues, and a this agreement gives us the momentum to get all three over the finish line."
The current short-term authorization of the NFIP, which provides coverage in flood-prone communities, is set to expire on July 31st. Experts warn that a lapse in the program would wreak havoc in the real estate market by delaying home sale closings in communities where flood coverage is mandatory. Biggert's proposal, which first passed the House as H.R. 1309, would extend the NFIP for five years while implementing reforms to address the program's $17 billion debt to U.S. taxpayers.
"After 17 extensions since 2008, multiple lapses in the program, and months of inaction, this flood insurance reform measure is a major bipartisan accomplishment," said Biggert. "The agreement eliminates barriers to the development of a private flood insurance market, and it helps to take taxpayers out of the insurance business."
The agreement also stops a scheduled hike in student loans rates. Under a 2007 statute, the interest rate on subsidized Stafford loans to undergraduate students was phased down from 6.8% to 3.4%, but interest rates are scheduled to return to previous levels unless Congress acts. Originally, the House passed Biggert's legislation, H.R. 4628, to extend lower rates for an additional year. A version of that legislation will be included in the new package.
"Our kids are moving back home after college for want of a paycheck," said Biggert. "They shouldn't have to pay the price for gridlock in Washington."
Finally, the agreement will include a two-year extension of federal transportation funding. Recently, Biggert joined forces with suburban colleagues Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Robert Dold (R-Ill.) to advance a compromise that would avert the need for another short-term extension of road funds, which are set to expire on June 30th.
"Illinois transportation managers need a long-term bill to invest in the road and rail projects that will keep commerce and traffic moving -- not to mention create jobs," said Biggert. "It took a lot of pushing -- on both sides of the aisle -- but this agreement safeguards suburban transit options and funds critical road and bridge projects. It's been a long, tough fight, but I think this final package is a solid compromise that will promote economic growth at a time when bipartisan agreements are hard to come by."