Another FAA Partial Shutdown? Senate in Stalemate

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It feels like déjà vu.

The current funding for F ederal Aviation Administration expires this Friday, threatening to put 80,000 people out of work by Saturday, unless Congress sends a bill to President Obama.

But as of now the bill does not have a way forward in the Senate with both sides pointing fingers at the other party, one Republican senator standing in the way of anything moving forward, and the Senate majority leader all-but calling that Republican senator a “dictator” for holding up the bill.

Here’s a little bit of a procedural explanation: The House of Representatives passed a joint bill yesterday to continue temporary funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and federal highway, transit and highway safety programs. Now in the Senate, the bill is being objected to by one Republican:  Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who is upset over the funding that states must invest in surface transportation as part of the Highway bill, which is tied to the FAA bill.

But to make matters more confusing and head-shaking the Senate’s $6.9 billion package to fund FEMA is also being dragged into this debate because of the Senate floor procedure. The Senate on Tuesday passed a cloture motion to proceed on the disaster aid bill, meaning procedurally the FEMA bill must be passed first. This basically puts a hold on the FAA/highway bill until FEMA is fully passed. But, some Republicans, including Coburn have concerns over the FEMA bill, too.

As of now, unless Senate Minority Leader Reid were to set aside the FEMA bill, and call up the FAA bill, which he likely will not do, the FAA bill is being held up, forced to be addressed second. The FAA bill though has a deadline, of Friday evening, when funds will run out.

Today on the Senate floor, without naming names but clearly targeting Coburn, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., likened his actions to a dictator in threatening to hold up the bill.

“We’re told this is going to be held up by the Republicans,” Reid bemoaned on the Senate floor today, “the senator says he doesn’t want to vote. He just wants to hold the bill up. He said if we put in the, what we got from the house and stuck his provision in that, I think he would be happy. I guess anyone would, madam president. It’s a pretty good way to legislate around here, be a dictator and say either take this or leave it that.”

Coburn is concerned about the programs designed to increase bike lanes and green space on the roads – which is part of the transportation bill – and wants the funds taken out.

The senator wants states to be able to opt out of the transportation enhancement mandate, and to have that change written into the bill.

“The beautification mandate is an indefensible threat against public safety that forces states to prioritize bike paths over bridge repair,” John Hart, a spokesman for Coburn, said today.

Reid warned that that if the FAA funding expires on Friday there will be about 80,000 people out of work by Saturday: 4,000 out of work for the FAA and about 70,000 that are working on airport construction jobs.