Weekly Columns

Washington is broken. That is the image that dominates the 24-hour news cycle. Whether you get your news from cable TV, a major newspaper or an online news outlet, the focus is almost always on the partisan bickering and very rarely shows progress. An election year only further serves to highlight the dysfunction in Washington. 

Despite that image, there has been bipartisan success in Washington recently with the passage of the highway bill reauthorization. The bill, which was quickly signed into law by the President, authorizes $109 billion over two years for states to spend on highway projects. The law also included provisions to extend the lower interest rate on student loans for a year and to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program.   

Transportation issues are at the core of Arkansas' continued economic development. Arkansas is growing. Therefore, building and maintaining a strong transportation infrastructure is vital to the economic progress of the entire state. Highway projects create jobs right away and produce decades of economic opportunity for communities. With all the talk of job creation and economic stimulus, infrastructure development truly is one of the best ways to accomplish those goals. 

Arkansas is set to receive $1 billion from the reauthorization. This is good news for our state highway department. Officials had a difficult time planning for the future while this reauthorization was stuck in limbo. With this renewed certainty, the state can let contracts and continue infrastructure improvements.  It lifts a big wet blanket off our local economies.

Our infrastructure must keep pace with the growth. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to find the resources to meet the demands growth has placed on Arkansas' infrastructure system.

The student loan provision of the bill provides relief to young Americans getting ready to enter college by extending the lower interest rate for new federally-subsidized student loans for another year. Higher tuition puts the dream of college out of reach for many young Americans. Loans help students overcome obstacles they face when it comes to accessing a quality, affordable education. We are able to prevent the interest rate from doubling on students seeking new federal loans next year by including this provision in the reauthorization.

Finally, the law also reauthorizes the National Flood Insurance Program, which provides coverage against property losses that result from flooding. There was a sticking point on this section. Language that would have required families and businesses to purchase flood insurance simply because they live behind a levee, dam or other flood control structure was included, despite my objections and those of  number of my colleagues.

A bipartisan group of senators, led by our senior Senator Mark Pryor, successfully stripped this arbitrary, unfair and overreaching language from the bill. The burden this mandate would have placed on Arkansans who live behind sound flood control infrastructure was completely unnecessary given the investments these communities have already made in flood protection.

When this bill was signed into law, we were able to knock out three major legislative tasks that had been stuck in a political tug-of-war for too long. It is evidence that Washington can complete its work when operating properly. I hope we see more of this in the future.