US Senate Wrangling Threatens Transport Shutdowns

September 15, 2011

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A US senator's objection to federal spending on bike paths and scenic projects threatened on Wednesday to hold up action by Congress that would avert shutdowns of aviation and highway spending and a lapse of fuel taxes.

The move by Republican Tom Coburn raised the prospect of Congress failing for the second time this summer to meet its own deadline for fully funding transport programmes, which in recent years have been kept alive by short-term funding renewals.

Partisan gridlock over a different issue caused the Federal Aviation Administration's last short-term financing law to lapse in July, leading to a two-week shutdown of airport improvement projects.

Congress eventually approved the measure, but not before 4,000 FAA employees were laid off and thousands of construction jobs idled.

Current FAA airport funding expires on Friday, while the law authorising the US government to reimburse states for road and transit construction upgrades and collect fuel taxes -- which fund those highway programmes -- expires on September 30.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, urged Coburn "to reconsider how this gridlock harms real people" and warned that jobs "will be eliminated if we don't get this thing passed."

House and Senate leaders struck a deal last week to continue the FAA airport programmes until January and the Transportation Department's highway and fuel tax funds until March while lawmakers try to craft long term legislation covering all three.

But Coburn urged the chamber to reject the requirement that states spend a percentage of highway dollars "on niceties rather than transportation needs."

"This will provide states and communities the flexibility to enhance safety rather than beautification and to meet local needs rather than the whims of Washington politicians, bureaucrats and special interest groups," Coburn said.