WASHINGTON — With another partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration looming this weekend, Sen. Tom Coburn on Wednesday blocked fast-track consideration of a bill to keep money flowing to the FAA and the nation's highway departments.
Coburn, R-Muskogee, said he objected to a federal program requiring states to spend road money on “enhancement” projects like museums and squirrel sanctuaries at the expense of critical bridge and highway improvements. If the state requirement wasn't removed, he said, he wouldn't consent to passage of a bill that includes aviation and highway funding authority.
Obviously frustrated, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., compared Coburn's tactics to those of a “dictator.” Coburn said later that he wasn't offended and that it was “time to draw a line in the sand for the American people, for our future.”
The House on Tuesday sent the Senate a bill that would temporarily extend funding for FAA and highway programs. The FAA's funding authority expires Friday, while the federal gasoline tax and highway programs must be extended by Sept. 30.
Coburn said the Senate could pass the FAA's authority separately and send it back to the House for approval to avoid a partial shutdown.
Or, he said, senators could approve the whole bill quickly by accepting his proposal to stop forcing states to spend money on enhancement projects.
“I will not give (unanimous consent) to continue to spend billions of dollars on things that are not a priority,” Coburn said. “If that means that the highway transportation bill doesn't get approved, so be it.”
Reid said Coburn was putting “his own petty priorities” above the need for FAA safety inspectors and others depending on the agency's funding.
He said Coburn actually refused to have a vote on his proposal and just wanted it made part of the bill. And Reid said Coburn had voted for the 2005 highway bill that included the requirement on states to spend money on enhancement projects.