Air traffic control workers manage operations at Chicago's O'Hare… (Brian Cassella, Chicago…)
Reporting from Washington — President Obama signed a federal air and transportation funding bill Friday, narrowly averting a threatened furlough to 80,000 aviation and construction workers.
Congress broke a logjam Thursday night and sent Obama the legislation to extend the funding just hours before the Federal Aviation Administration portion of the money was set to expire.
Because Congress did not resolve underlying disputes about long-term measures, FAA funding will expire in February and the Highway Trust Fund money in April unless further extensions are approved.
But legislation to replenish depleted Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster-aid funds with $6.9 billion, instead of the $1.8 billion the president initially asked for, remains mired in partisan gridlock. House Republican leaders insist that supplemental funds for Hurricane Irene and other disasters be offset by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.
Republicans are aiming to take funds away from an alternative-energy auto program to cover the FEMA funding. This summer, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told Fox News that his party was doing what any ordinary family would do in a crisis — doing without a new car to pay for the needs of a sick loved one, for instance.
Democrats oppose that approach, and say disaster funds have traditionally been provided to communities without such offsets. The debate over disaster funds could head toward a showdown next week in the House.
"House Republicans are setting a dangerous precedent by requiring that disaster aid be offset, especially when Americans are struggling to rebuild their homes, businesses and communities," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said in a statement. Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), she added, "must allow a vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan bill without further delay."
Late Thursday night, the Senate overcame a filibuster on the bill with the support of six Republicans, all from states hit hard by at least one of the 48 events Obama has declared disasters since Jan. 1. But it remains to be seen how many House Republicans will side with the Senate's FEMA funding increase.
The House is expected to take up disaster aid as part of a broader bill to fund the government for the first months of the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.