Highway bill touted in Massachusetts Senate debate

by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper

A rare thing happened in the first Massachusetts Senate debate this week: a lawmaker running for reelection touted voting for the $105 billion transportation bill that was approved by Congress earlier this year.

In a debate with Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren (D) on Thursday night, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) cited the transportation bill as proof of his bipartisan nature.

Not many other lawmakers have mentioned the transportation bill on the campaign trail this year.

The measure, which was the first new road and transit spending measure passed by lawmakers since 2005, was part of what is widely thought of as the final burst of legislative activity before the November elections. But lawmakers have largely stayed quiet about it as campaigns cast each other as big government spenders.

Brown bucked the trend of keeping quiet about the transportation funding, however, using his vote for the measure to show constituents in his heavily Democratic state that he is a believer in bipartisanship.

The comment from the freshman senator came in a discussion about an extension of student loans that was combined with the highway bill when it was voted on for final approval in the House and Senate.

“We drew a line in the sand collectively and in a bipartisan way, we put that through by tweaking some federal programs — no additional cost to the taxpayers,” he said. “Not only did we do that, we actually passed flood insurance for five years for those folks who are [living] in our flood zones, and we also put out a bipartisan, bicameral…highway bill to create jobs.”

The combined bill Brown touted extended federal transportation spending for two years and federal flood insurance for five years, and kept a 3.4 percent interest rate on federal Stafford student loans for one year.

Lawmakers in both parties talked regularly about the transportation funding portions of the bill as a jobs creator, but not many have brought it up on the stump since then.

One lawmaker who voted against the measure, Rep. Sandy Adams (R-Fla.), tried to turn the road and transit spending against House Transportation Committee Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) in their contentious member-versus-member primary earlier this year. Mica was able to survive the challenge, however.

For his part, Brown has regularly looked for opportunities to tout his bipartisan work in the Senate because he is running for reelection in heavily Democratic state expected to be carried by President Obama by wide margins.

Political observers have suggested that Brown may need as many as 300,000 voters who cast ballots for Obama to split tickets and also vote for him to survive an expected higher Democratic turnout than when he won his seat in a special election in 2010.

Polls have shown Brown and Warren generally running a close race, though several surveys released this week showed her slightly leading the incumbent senator.



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