Coburn May Look to Block FAA, Highway Funding Deal in Senate

An agreement to keep U.S. aviation, highway and transit programs operating may be challenged by a senator who wants to stop requiring states to spend money on highway beautification and bicycle lanes.

Senator Tom Coburn will use “all procedural tools at his disposal to force a vote” to block the requirement that states set aside a portion of federal highway grants for so-called transportation enhancements, said John Hart, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Republican, by telephone.

“We’re not going to continue to spend money on that,” Coburn said in an interview.

Asked about Coburn’s threat to block the extension measure, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said “there’s an active negotiation” to resolve it among Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat; House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat; and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.

The FAA has operated under a series of short-term extensions since its last multiyear spending bill expired in 2007. Its latest renewal runs out Sept. 16. Authorization for highway and transit grants, as well as for the gas taxes that fund them, has also relied on interim measures since expiring in 2009. The current extension expires Sept. 30.

Congressional leaders agreed Sept. 9 to continue current funding for the FAA for four months and highway and transit programs for six months, according to Representative John Mica, the Florida Republican who chairs the House transportation committee.

The House is expected to vote on the legislation tomorrow, Laena Fallon, a spokeswoman for Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, said in a phone interview.

Enhancements, EAS

Coburn last month held up Senate action on an earlier extension of aviation funding over a desire for deeper cuts than the House sought to a program that subsidies air service to rural communities.

His objection combined with Democrats’ opposition to making any cuts to the program kept Congress from renewing the FAA’s revenue-raising authority. That led to a two-week partial shut-down of the agency, 4,000 worker furloughs and a temporary halt to airport construction projects.

Durbin said he thought the talks among House and Senate leaders would avert another partial shutdown.

Coburn first signaled he would block another renewal of highway and transit money over the enhancements program last month, before Mica announced a bipartisan agreement to maintain funding at current levels.

President Barack Obama’s job-creation proposal, which he outlined before Congress last week, requires states to devote 3 percent of any new highway funds they receive to the so-called enhancements program, according to language released today.

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