Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) speaks during a July 18 news conference on Capitol… (Alex Wong / Getty Images )
Less than two months after a Senate disagreement regarding Federal Aviation Administration funding extensions put 80,000 FAA employees and airport construction workers on unpaid leave for two weeks, the same 80,000 people may be put on indefinite leave again by this Saturday.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is holding up passage of a funding extension for the FAA and highway projects, which passed unanimously in the House of Representatives Tuesday. FAA funding will expire Friday unless a compromise is reached.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Coburn a "dictator" Wednesday for holding up passage of the 22nd consecutive short-term funding extension for the FAA, which lasts until January.
In addition to putting people out of work, the Senate’s previous stalemate on the issue resulted in the FAA not being able to collect at least $350 million in taxes from airline carriers.
Coburn wants to amend the extension bill to eliminate a provision requiring states to fund "transportation enhancements" for bike paths, museums and similar recreational projects.
"The beautification mandate is an indefensible threat against public safety that forces states to prioritize bike paths over bridge repair," said John Hart, Coburn’s spokesman.
More than 1 million additional jobs are at stake if an agreement is not reached by Sept. 30, which is when funding for the highway construction projects expires.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois said in an interview that several politicians on both sides of the aisle are trying to resolve the disagreement, including Reid, House Speaker John Boehner), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Some conservative groups, such as the Heritage Foundation, are urging Republicans to vote against the bill, saying its cost is too high.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood lauded the passage of the bill, but noted that repeatedly extending funding for programs right before the money dries up puts workers on edge. A letter to Congress from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also supported the bill while reiterating the need to end the string of short-term funding extensions.
"Four years overdue, the lack of a long-term FAA reauthorization is hampering airport construction and progress on Next Generation Air Traffic Control investments," Bruce Josten, the chamber's executive vice president of government affairs, said in a statement. "We encourage the Senate and House to pass the four-month extension and then quickly resolve the remaining issues between the different versions of the reauthorization legislation and pass a multi-year aviation authorization so that critical investments can proceed."