Until late this afternoon, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) was single-handedly blocking the transportation bill that would temporarily reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, keep 80,000 people in their jobs, and avoid another costly shutdown like the one that occurred in August. Coburn had said he was blocking the bill due to the “indefensible threat to public safety” caused by a provision in the bill meant to increase trees and bike paths alongside roadways.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had repeatedly chided Coburn, saying “the junior senator from Oklahoma” was acting like “a dictator.” Coburn reportedly removed his block of the bill this afternoon, but not before several Republican senators joined in that criticism, urging Coburn to relent on his blockade so the Senate could vote on the transportation package and avoid another shutdown:
“We need to reduce spending and cut out special interest provisions, but we should not let a gap in the construction program go forward,” said [Sen. Mark] Kirk [R-IL], whose state has the very busy O’Hare International Airport. “The economy is already teetering on the edge of a recession. So Congress should not repeat what happened with the FAA in August.”
Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who blasted her Republican colleagues and said the August shutdown was “not honorable,” joined Kirk, saying she wanted the package to “pass without any delays. It’s too costly.” She was echoed by Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada and the Senate GOP’s Conference Chair, Lamar Alexander (TN), who said simply, “We need an FAA extension.”
The August FAA shutdown was costly for both workers and the government. For nearly two weeks, 4,000 FAA employees were involuntarily furloughed and the government lost more than $200 million a week in tax revenues. Now, just when it seemed both sides had reached an agreement to keep the agency funded for another four months, Republican extremism struck again in the form of Coburn’s block. If Coburn hadn’t heeded his colleagues’ advice, nearly 80,000 Americans could have been out of work, and the blame for another FAA shutdown would have again laid at the feet of the Republican Party.
The Senate voted 92–6 to approve the transportation bill, which includes a temporary re-authorization of the FAA. The House has already approved the bill.