By Keith Laing
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) on Wednesday evening continued their fight over a bill that would extend the funding of the Federal Aviation Administration beyond Friday, with each saying the other could end the impasse that threatens to force another round of furloughs at the beleagured agency.
Reid blamed Coburn earlier Wednesday for placing a hold on a bill to fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency, saying that the Senate could not vote on the bill passed this week by the House to extend the FAA’s funding through January and highway spending through March until it took up the FEMA bill.
Coburn took to the floor Wednesday to reiterate his objection to both bills.
“There ought to be a time at which we say enough’s enough,” he said. “And I know there will be several, including my own senior senator [James Inhofe (R)], who will be unhappy with my position but I believe it’s time to draw a line in the sand for the American people, for our future. It’s not popular. It’s certainly not expedient. But it’s absolutely the right thing to do.”
“If the Senate wants to solve the problem with these two bills, we can split them up or we can keep them together but we need to end the enhancements right now until we get the highway trust fund healthy again,” he said.
In floor remarks of his own Wednesday evening, Reid disagreed.
“Sadly, in just two days, about 80,000 people will be out of work because of the obstructionism of one man,” he said. “This senator, the junior senator from Oklahoma, is putting his own petty priorities ahead of the needs of thousands of safety inspectors, construction workers and contractors who are about to lose their healthcare and their livelihoods for the second time in just the last few months.
“The same senator is holding up emergency funding for thousands of Americans, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, actually, whose homes have been destroyed by tornadoes, floods and wildfires. We have a bill that came from the House of Representatives, funding for four months the Federal Aviation Administration. We have a bill that’s come from the House — they put them together — to fund the highway bill for six months. Those two bills together, almost 2 million jobs would be eliminated if we don’t pass the highway bill by the end of the month but FEMA by Friday.”
Reid said that he respects Coburn’s objections to the fact that there are not offsets for the FEMA bill and to road-beautification provisions in the transportation bill, but he disagreed with the senator’s methods for dealing with those disagreements.
“The senator from Oklahoma that I just referred to doesn’t like the provision in the highway bill,” he said. “Stopping that is one thing, but now he’s stopping us from doing something about the people who are in need of desperate help who have been hit hard by fires. In Texas alone, we have had 2,000 homes burned to the ground. So he’s holding up emergency aid for Americans whose homes have been destroyed by tornadoes, floods, wildfires, farmland, millions of acres under water, and he’s jeopardizing almost 2 million jobs by blocking the highway bill. But how he gets these two together is something I can’t logically understand.”
The last shutdown of the FAA, for 13 days in August, was projected to have cost the federal government $30 million per day because sales taxes on airline tickets were not able to be collected. About 4,000 FAA workers were furloughed, and transportation groups said another 70,000 construction workers were put out of work.
The agency runs out of money again Friday at midnight.
The highway bill, which among other things authorizes the collection of the federal gas tax, is set to expire Sept. 30. The measure was combined with the FAA spending bill in a bipartisan deal between Democrats and Republicans in the House.