FAA Bill Hits Senate Roadblock

Congress has until midnight Friday to avoid another partial shutdown.

Tom Cobourn

Tom Cobourn

** Sen. Tom Cobourn (R.-Okla.) has threatened
to block the FAA funding bill if certain
provisions aren't removed.**

Here we go again. First it was union rules for airline employees and subsidies for rural airports that derailed a short-term FAA funding extension, and now it could be road money for bike lanes, green space and a squirrel sanctuary that forces another partial shutdown like the one that put 4,000 agency employees out of work for two weeks over the summer.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has blocked fast-track consideration of a bill that would ensure the uninterrupted flow of money to the FAA and the nation’s highway departments through early next year, saying he objects to a federal program that requires states to spend billions on roadway enhancements, including a museum in Pennsylvania, a Chinatown gateway in California and a squirrel habitat in Tennessee.

“We’re not going to continue to spend money on those things,” he said.

The House this week passed a four-month extension of the FAA’s funding, a move that was widely praised for giving legislators time to hammer out a long-term deal and avoid another partial shutdown. Congress has until midnight on Friday to work out a deal to avoid a repeat of that scenario.

Coburn said the Senate could avoid a shutdown by passing the FAA’s authority separately and sending it back to the House for approval. Senators could also approve the entire bill by accepting his proposal to stop forcing states to spend money on road enhancement projects, he said.

Depending on how the drama plays out, it could take several days for the Senate to pass the FAA bill.

The House version of the FAA funding extension runs through Jan. 31, 2012. Transportation Committee chairman John Mica (R.-Fla.) predicted that would allow sufficient time for Congress to hammer out a four-year funding agreement, ending a series of 22 Band-Aid extensions, some of which have lasted only a few weeks.

A major sticking point to reaching long-term consensus will be union rules and rural airport subsidies, the two hot button issues that touched off the summer standoff in Congress. Neither side appears willing to budge on either front, meaning the political fireworks surrounding the FAA in all likelihood are far from over.