Senate OKs stopgap funding for highways and FAA
In a flurry of bipartisan cooperation late Thursday, the Senate cleared a $7 billion bill to boost federal disaster funding and measures to keep the Federal Aviation Administration and federal highway spending going for the rest of this year, as lawmakers brushed aside conservatives’ concerns over the deficit.
The FAA and highway programs were extended at current funding levels after senators rejected amendments to cut their funding. The Senate also turned back an effort to offset the additional disaster money by eliminating $7 billion in duplicative government programs — both steps Republicans had fought for.
“Today shows that the pendulum is swinging back,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, told reporters as he and fellow Democratic leaders touted the votes and said it signifies the re-emergence of a bipartisan consensus in favor of infrastructure and basic government functions.
The disaster-aid bill passed 62-37, while the bill combining the highway and FAA measures passed 92-6.
Both Democrats and Republicans seemed to lack the stomach for the kinds of fights that have dominated much of this year, which nearly brought the government to a shutdown and a potential debt default, and did leave thousands of FAA workers and contractors furloughed early last month when the House and Senate stalemated over extending the program’s authorization.
But the disaster-aid vote remains contentious, and at stake is the fundamental principle of whether all new spending must be offset or not.
House Republicans are working on a less-expensive bill, at $3.65 billion, that includes $1 billion in offsets, and have attached it to an omnibus bill to extend all government funding past Sept. 30, which is when the current fiscal year ends.
With much of the country touched by hurricane, tornado, wildfire or earthquake damage, the government’s main disaster-relief spending account is nearly empty. All sides agree the government has an obligation to pony up, but they disagree on whether it should be paid for by cuts elsewhere, or simply tacked onto the deficit, which is approaching $1.3 trillion.
So far, Congress has not passed any of the 12 individual spending bills required to keep the government running in fiscal 2012, and the catchall bill, known as a “continuing resolution,” is designed to bridge the gap.
The overall funding level for fiscal 2012 spending was set in last month’s debt deal, and amounts to a $7 billion reduction from 2011 levels.
Some House Republicans, though, still want to go deeper, arguing that spending should be cut to the levels the House adopted in its budget earlier this year.
“What kind of a message does it send to taxpayers when the House actually increases spending as a result of the debt deal?” said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, who organized a letter signed by more than 50 of his colleagues protesting the higher spending level. “The spending limits established in the debt deal were meant to be a ceiling, not a floor.”
Top Republican leaders, though, have urged colleagues to abide by the level in the debt deal, and said they will not allow a government shutdown to happen on their watch.
Republican leaders will likely need most House Republicans’ support after Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, signaled Thursday that it’s unlikely many Democrats will back the legislation.
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.