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Senate strikes FAA deal, averts furlough threat

Washington Bureau

Breaking a logjam that threatened to furlough 80,000 aviation and construction workers, Congress sent President Obama legislation to extend federal air and transportation bills, narrowly averting a Friday deadline.

But legislation to replenish depleted Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster-aid funds remained mired in partisan gridlock, opposed by House Republican leaders who insist that supplemental funds to pay for Hurricane Irene and other disasters be paid with spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.

The slow advance of both bills Thursday shows the extent to which partisan infighting is holding up even routine measures that generally enjoy widespread support.

“Disaster victims should not be victimized twice, first by Mother Nature and then by politics in Washington, D.C.,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), in a letter to the House Republican leadership.

The Senate overcame several procedural hurdles and amendments to approve funding to continue highway projects and Federal Aviation Administration work. Only a handful of senators opposed the bill.

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FAA funding is due to expire Friday, threatening to halt airport construction and renovation projects nationwide. About 80,000 workers had been temporarily furloughed earlier this year after a similar stalemate in Congress. The House overwhelmingly passed the FAA and highway extensions earlier this week, and Obama was expected to quickly sign them into law. Highway transportation funds expire Sept. 30.

Disaster funding is on a more difficult track.

The Senate overcame a filibuster to advance legislation that would bolster FEMA’s disaster relief fund, which is about to run out of money.

But House Republicans want the supplemental funds to be offset with spending cuts elsewhere, targeting an alternative-energy vehicle program. They have also offered a smaller aid package.

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. 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 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

lmascaro@tribune.com


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