The House of Representatives today passed by voice vote a bill that would extend both the FAA authorization and the surface transportation authorization ahead for several months (FAA until the end of January, surface transportation for six months until the end of March). This represents a significant victory for those who didn’t want to see these bills hijacked, with more construction personnel thrown out of work as a result. The fact that Republicans didn’t even bother to record the vote on this shows how they wanted a low profile on this.

But we’re not done yet; the legislation still must clear the Senate’s Dr. No.

At least one senator — Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma — may object to the compromise bill, John Hart, a spokesman for Coburn, said. Coburn is drafting an amendment would reduce funding for “transportation enhancements,” including bike paths and beautification programs, Hart said.

However, it doesn’t appear Coburn has enough support to hold up passage of the measure.

If the Senate files cloture on the bill today, they can allow Coburn to take all the time he can and still get the measure passed by the end of the week. However, the Senate is tied up with the disaster relief funding bill, which is attached to a bill on sanctions for Burma. So it’s unclear whether they can clear Coburn’s amendment and get the whole thing passed before the week is out. FAA authorization expires on Friday.

The bill did not include back pay for FAA workers who were furloughed during the two-week shutdown earlier this year. John Mica (R-FL), the House Transportation Committee chair, said he wanted to move that, but it hasn’t happened.

But keep in mind how this played out. Mica tried to play hardball last time with the FAA bill by attaching some riders targeting Democratic states, and demanding that changes to union elections be mandated to shield Delta Airlines from unionization. Democrats said no down the line, that they wouldn’t allow a short-term extension with policy riders on it, and that they wouldn’t back down from following established labor law. As a result, Mica took a massive amount of pressure, whined about it, and then came up with a months-long clean extension at the same level of spending, throwing in a 6-month extension on surface transportation for good measure.

This is what happens when Democrats refuse to play the victim against a bully. By standing up to Mica, we have this unusual circumstance where the Republicans gave in. Now some of that is due to external factors, like the fallout from the debt limit deal. But standing up in the first place played a role.

David Dayen

David Dayen