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Senate Clears Disaster Aid, Transportation Measures

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Sens. Charles Schumer and Barbara Boxer speak with reporters today in the Senate Print Gallery about the transportation bill, which has passed both the House and Senate.

The Senate cleared legislation today to provide about $7 billion in emergency disaster aid and a House-passed transportation package that averts a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration.

“What’s happened this week in the Senate is an example of what can happen if people work together,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. “About 2 million people are breathing a sigh of relief because they are going to have jobs Monday.”

The Nevada Democrat had been threatening to hold votes this weekend in an effort to force action on the transportation bill before midnight Friday, when funding for the FAA is set to expire and some workers would face furloughs.

The bill, passed 92-6, includes a four-month FAA funding extension and a six-month funding extension for surface transportation programs, scheduled to expire at the end of the month. Before final passage, the Senate rejected two Republican amendments.

The measure was being held up by Sen. Tom Coburn over his opposition to a provision that would require states to set aside funds for projects such as bike paths, sound walls and decorative highway signs.

The Oklahoma Republican argued that the provision forces states to prioritize bike paths over bridge repair. He reversed course after striking a deal with Democrats to include language in the long-term transportation authorization bill allowing states to opt out of the requirement.

“He feels more comfortable on what we are going to be doing in the future on the highway bill,” Reid said of Coburn’s move.

Before reaching the deal, Reid had sought to give Coburn a vote on an amendment addressing his concern, according to Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who suggested Coburn declined the offer because he likely would not have prevailed.

A vote on a similar proposal in 2009 failed to muster enough support to win adoption, Boxer said.

The delay could have resulted in the second partial shutdown of the FAA this year because of a standoff in Congress. The agency was without funding for about three weeks this summer as lawmakers wrangled over cuts to rural air service subsidies. A deal was finally struck and sent to the president Aug. 5.

Meanwhile, Senate passage of the disaster funding, 62 to 37, sets up a confrontation with House GOP leaders who are planning to provide $3.6 billion for disaster relief and offset $1 billion of the funding.

The Senate defeated two Republican amendments seeking to offset the funding.

Coburn’s proposal to pay for the disaster funding through savings from termination of duplicative federal programs won 54 votes, six short of the 60 required for adoption.

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