Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) took Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to task for blocking a critical transportation bill — an action that could put 80,000 people out of work by this weekend. The GOP-controlled House has already passed the bill, which temporarily extends funding for the Federal Aviation Administration and highway projects, in order to avert another FAA shutdown.
The bill needs to be signed by President Obama by Friday, but Coburn is threatening to let the deadline pass. He’s even found a novel excuse for holding the bill hostage — his objection to bike paths and trees:
Coburn spokesman John Hart said Wednesday that the senator “makes no apologies for doing everything in his power to force his colleagues to cut wasteful spending instead of inflicting further damage on our economy through unnecessary borrowing.
“Congress’s refusal to live within its means has created an economic disaster and a debt that is now our greatest national security threat,” he said.
Hart said Coburn was also opposed to provisions in the transportation bill designed to increase the number of bike paths and trees along roadways.
“The beautification mandate is an indefensible threat against public safety that forces states to prioritize bike paths over bridge repair,” he said.
Earlier this summer, Republican refusal to reauthorize the FAA without passage of an anti-union provision shut down the agency for weeks. Their action furloughed 4,000 FAA workers, forced others to work without pay, halted $2.5 billion in airport construction projects, and cost the government about $200 million a week. Coburn is threatening to repeat that event by refusing to let the Senate vote on the bill by Friday.
Adding insult to injury, Coburn is also holding up a bill to fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which must be voted on first before the Senate can take up FAA authorization. Coburn objects to the price tag of the $6.9 billion FEMA bill. This emergency disaster aid is, of course, important to pass quickly in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and other natural disasters. Reid even compared Coburn to a dictator for holding up the bill.