Last night, it didn’t look as if the Senate would be able to get the clean extension of both the FAA authorization and the surface transportation authorization before a deadline of today. Tom Coburn was holding up the bill in a fruitless crusade against bike paths. It’s a long story.
A bill that extended funding for the FAA and for highway and transit projects bogged down unexpectedly this week when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) objected to a mandate that states spend 10 percent of their federal funding on landscaping, pedestrian safety and bike paths.
Under a compromise reached Thursday night, Senate leaders promised Coburn that the mandate would be dropped from a long-term highway funding bill expected next year.
“All we are saying is, if a state wants to continue to spend money on something other than safety and bridges and roads, fine, it can, but don’t make those of us who already have a big problem with safety have to spend money on something that doesn’t protect our citizens, doesn’t enhance their highways, by spending money on something that is called an enhancement but doesn’t enhance their safety or their ability to commute,” Coburn said Thursday on the Senate floor.
That’s pretty far down the road; this extension is good for surface transportation until March (the FAA authorization goes through to January). And the Senate leadership isn’t necessarily wedded to this promise; we’ll see what happens six months down the road. But it’s a bit of a shame to see an innocuous yet important piece of funding, one of the few parts of the transportation bill that doesn’t go to facilitate the noxious spouting of greenhouse gas emissions, and promotes the safety of bikers who choose not to contribute to said spouting, go down for no other reason than because Tom Coburn got his knickers in a twist about it and made use of leverage based on a deadline for FAA authorization. This is hostage taking too; it may not have gotten the headlines of the April threatened government shutdown or the July debt limit debate, but it’s the same dynamic, played by the same wing of the Republican Party.
Here was Harry Reid’s statement, which also refers to the FEMA funding bill that passed the Senate with 62 votes yesterday:
“We can accomplish so much when we work together. Today, Democrats and Republicans voted overwhelmingly to make sure that 74,000 aviation workers and nearly two million construction workers will stay in their jobs. We also passed a bipartisan bill to get relief to Americans all across the country who are suffering because of wildfires, floods and hurricanes.
“We need to get this relief to the Americans who need it as quickly as possible. I hope our colleagues in the House will take up our bipartisan bill and pass it without delay.”
This one could get stickier. The House stuck their disaster relief funding bill into a two-month FY2012 continuing resolution, scheduled for a vote next week. But they offset the disaster relief funding, and also provided far less of it ($3.65 billion versus $6.8 billion) than the Senate bill, which did not have offsets. And the program targeted for the offset, a loan program for hybrid vehicles, is near and dear to the White House.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi doesn’t like the idea of offsetting emergency funding, something she says sets a “dangerous precedent.” In a statement, she wrote that “Speaker Boehner must allow a vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan bill without further delay.”
There’s an interesting sidelight to this. About 50 House conservatives don’t like the fact that the House CR actually funds the government at the level agreed to in the debt limit deal. They want to go lower, and they won’t vote for the bill any other way. This actually gives House Democrats some leverage; the CR won’t move if they refuse to vote for it en masse. At the same time, if it manages to pass, the House could jam the Senate, where either the Senate passes the CR with the offset emergency funding or the government shuts down. This is all a bit hard to understand, but basically, the House GOP, led by Eric Cantor, is trying to offset disaster relief for the first time in history, which is bad economics and, because it might lead to a delay in funding, highly immoral.
The President hasn’t said anything about this, and all sides agree that the government will be funded. But there’s still a lot of brinksmanship being waged.