By: Dan Friedman September 15, 2011
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has dropped an objection to quick Senate action on a combined Federal Aviation Authority and surface transportation bill after striking a deal with Senate Democrats. The agreement ends the chance of another FAA partial shutdown and tens of millions of dollars in lost airline-ticket tax revenue.
“We have an agreement,” Coburn told reporters during Senate votes on Thursday.
Coburn said that after the six-month highway reauthorization now under consideration ends, Democrats have agreed to inserting language in the next bill that would allow states to opt out of an obligation to set aside highway funds for projects like bicycle and pedestrian paths.
Coburn had pushed for that language to be added to a combined bill that extends authorization of federal highway construction. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., attacked Coburn for refusing to agree to a vote on his amendment, which Democrats say he would lose, and simply insisting on insertion of the language.
To move the joint measure, Democrats needed Coburn to sign off on a unanimous consent deal. Otherwise Senate rules would not allow a final vote until the middle of next week, said Adam Jentleson, a Reid spokesman. Jentleson said that Reid had planned to keep the Senate this weekend if no deal had been reached.
There is little question the bill would pass, but the delay would have again left some FAA workers without pay and prevented the agency from collecting millions of dollars a day in airline taxes. Staff for Reid, Coburn, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had been talking on Thursday, and aides had said that resolution of the issue Thursday evening was possible.
The FAA must be reauthorized by Friday to continue normal operations. The highway bill does not need approval until month’s end. Coburn had pushed for splitting the bills, but Reid said that is impossible because it would undo an procedural arrangement with the House. Both portions are stop-gap reauthorizations. The House passed the combined bill this week to keep the programs running while talks on longer-term bills continue.
Source: NATIONAL JOURNAL