Congress proves bipartisan effort does work

The following editorial appeared Saturday in the Hickory (N.C.) Daily Record

Independence Day is time to celebrate freedom and wave the flag. The flag is a symbol of unity, yet there is more discord than harmony under the flags that fly over Washington, DC.

After the bitterness expressed in recent days over the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act and the tug of war over the US attorney general and a gun-tracking scheme that went all wrong, it was good to see a bipartisan effort bear fruit.

Friday, Congress showed what working together can accomplish by easily passing a federal transportation bill.

President Barack Obama's is expected to quickly sign the bill that appropriates more than $100 billion for highway, mass transit and other transportation programs over the next two years. The money goes for projects that would have expired Saturday without congressional action.

More good news is that the bill contains a separate provision to freeze interest rates on student loans.

Now, interest rates of 3.4 percent for subsidized Stafford loans for undergraduates will continue for another year, instead of doubling for new loans. Today was the day the rates would have zoomed upward, so Congress squeaked by another dramatic deadline.

Had the transportation/college loan package failed, the 7.4 million students expected to get the loans over the coming year would have had to pay more to finance their education.

Representatives and senators surely were aware of the ill will that would have created only four months from Election Day.

Both sides will try to get political mileage from the bill, but this legislation is an example of a lot of congressional business: It's good for America. The transportation money will save and create jobs. It will help maintain the nation's critical infrastructure. Maintaining low interest rates on college loans will provide welcome assistance for students and their families trying to finance a good education in the midst of a still-stumbling economy.

Friday's congressional action is something everyone can crow about, including the people who are the beneficiaries of a refreshing bipartisan effort.

How significant were the votes from a political standpoint? The Democratic-led Senate passed the bill 74-19. Minutes earlier, the Republican-dominated House approved it 373-52.

That's a study in unity, in cooperation, and in doing what's right for the nation.

Let that be a lesson to Congress and the administration that it's possible, necessary and critical to put partisan gamesmanship aside at times for the overall good of our citizens.

That thought and their actions are worth some extra flag-waving this Independence Day.