The Senate on Thursday evening passed legislation that extends funding for the Federal Aviation Administration, narrowly averting a second partial agency shutdown.
The measure was approved 92-6.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who was blocking the legislation, reached an agreement with lawmakers and dropped his objection to the bill. Coburn opposed a mandate directing states to spend 10 percent of surface transportation funds on certain enhancements, including bike paths and landscaping. The senator wanted the language stripped from the bill.
Coburn said Democrats agreed to insert language in the next highway extension bill that allows states to opt out of the mandate and choose which infrastructure needs to prioritize.
The House on Tuesday passed on voice vote legislation that would extend the FAA's current funding levels through Jan. 31, 2012, as well as authorize funding for surface transportation programs. It is the 22nd short-term funding extension for the FAA and the 8th such stopgap measure for highways, bridges, and railways.
If Congress had failed to agree on a reauthorization by Friday, thousands of FAA employees would have been furloughed for the second time this summer.
Before Coburn and lawmakers reached a deal Thursday night, unions expressed their concern over the congressional wrangling. "We are troubled that FAA employees are again put in a position where they have to worry about whether or not they will have a job to go to on Monday," said Kori Blalock Keller, a spokeswoman for the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists. "We hope that Sen. Coburn can put aside his objections and work to pass this extension."
"We urge the Senate to act before the deadline to avert another shutdown and prevent a repeat of the devastating job losses and furloughs we saw last month that severely hurt these dedicated workers and their families," National Air Traffic Controllers Association President Paul Rinaldi said.
Earlier this summer, FAA furloughed 4,000 employees, including almost 1,000 in Washington, for two weeks after lawmakers failed to reach a last-minute agreement on July 22 on a stopgap funding measure for the agency. In August, lawmakers reached a deal ending the impasse and temporarily extending the agency's funding through Sept. 16. Congress has yet to authorize back pay for the furloughed workers.
"Sen. Coburn doesn't have to worry about not receiving a paycheck," said Carl Goldman, executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 26. "He is not thinking about the effect on FAA employees and the tens of thousands of construction workers around the country. These folks cannot afford another financial hit."