Sen. Tom Coburn blocking bill for FAA, highway funding

Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn's “line in the sand” could mean another partial shutdown of the FAA if situation isn't resolved by Friday. Coburn on Wednesday blocked fast-track consideration of a bill to keep money flowing to the FAA and the nation's highway departments.
BY CHRIS CASTEEL ccasteel@opubco.com Published: September 15, 2011
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Coburn was among those blamed for the partial shutdown of the FAA in late July and early August, when the agency was forced to furlough about 4,000 workers — including 133 in Oklahoma City — and halt construction projects at numerous airports. A House Republican lawmaker said then that Coburn would not agree to extend FAA funding unless Congress eliminated federal subsidies for some rural air service.

Senate rules seemed to be exacerbating the problem on Wednesday. Reid said he had to continue, until Friday, the consideration of a bill to replenish federal disaster relief funds. Coburn's refusal to let the aviation-highway bill go through the Senate's fast-track procedure — unanimous consent — means Reid would have to bring it up after the FEMA bill is completed.

Depending on the circumstances, it could take days to get the FAA bill out of the Senate.

Coburn cites projects

Coburn read some of the enhancement projects that had been funded with hundreds of thousands of dollars of federal fuel tax money. Among those cited were a museum in Pennsylvania, a Chinatown gateway in California and a squirrel sanctuary in Tennessee. He said states could choose to fund such projects but shouldn't be forced to do so in order to receive their federal road funding.

Congress has been unable to reach consensus on long-term legislation for the FAA and surface transportation that would eliminate the need for temporary extensions — and threats of shutdowns.

The FAA's authority already has been temporarily extended 21 times since 2007. The highway bill has been extended seven times. The bill before the Senate would extend the FAA's authority for four months and surface transportation programs for six months.