Obama signs highway funding, FAA extension

After an unexpected second round of congressional squabbling over funding for the Federal Aviation Administration and highway programs, President Obama has signed the bill passed by lawmakers this week to extend both through next year.

Following a showdown between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) over a hold placed on the transportation spending bill by Coburn because of objections he had to it and an unrelated emergency management measure, the Senate approved the “Surface and Air Transportation Programs Extension Act of 2011" Thursday evening on a 92-6 vote.

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The bill funds the FAA through January of next year and highway programs through the end of March. It also authorizes the collection of federal gas tax, which brings in an estimated $100 million per day.

The vote to approve the extension Thursday came only after Reid allowed a vote on amendments from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that address Coburn's concerns about road beautification provisions in the highway bill and the emergency management bill not being offset by cuts in other areas of federal spending.

The FAA's funding had been set to expire Friday.

The White House announced Friday afternoon that President Obama signed the measure extending it and highway funding, which was schedule to reach its own expiration date Sept. 30.

Obama's signature averted a second partial shutdown of the beleaguered FAA in two months. About 4,000 workers were furloughed at the agency last month when Congress could not resolve an impasse over the short-term funding bill that expires Friday.

Transportation advocates say another 70,000 construction workers were placed out-of-work by the shutdown as well because more than 200 airport projects were halted.

The August shutdown cost the federal government about $30 million per day because sales taxes on airline ticket sales could not be collected.

Longer bills for the FAA and highway have stalled in Congress as Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate have pushed vastly different version of the bills.

The House passed a four-year, $59 billion bill for the FAA in May, but it included provisions designed to make it harder for transportation workers to unionize that drew a veto threat from President Obama.

The Senate passed a two-year, $34 billion without the union provisions.

On highway funding, the Republican-led House has proposed a six-year, $235 billion, while the Democratically-controlled Senate has suggested a two-year, $109 billion.

The bill signed Friday by Obama is the 22nd short-term funding extension for the FAA since 2007 and the eight extension of the highway bill that expired in 2005.

Advocates have long sought long-term renewals of both measures.

This post was corrected Sept. 17 at 12:17 p.m.