WASHINGTON – Two thousand federal transportation workers were furloughed without pay on Monday, and the Obama administration said they have a Kentucky senator to blame for it.
Federal reimbursements to states for highway programs will also be halted, the Transportation Department said in a statement late Sunday. The reimbursements amount to about $190 million a day, according to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The furloughs and freeze on payments were the result of a decision last week by Republican Sen. Jim Bunning to block passage of legislation that would have extended federal highway and transit programs, the department said. Those programs expired at midnight Sunday.
The extension of transportation programs was part of a larger package of government programs that also expired Sunday, including unemployment benefits for about 400,000 Americans.
Bunning objected to the $10 billion measure, saying it would add to the budget deficit. He didn't respond to a request Monday for comment.
The impasse has provided the administration with an opening to excoriate Republicans for allowing popular programs to run out, even if only for a short time.
"As American families are struggling in tough economic times, I am keenly disappointed that political games are putting a stop to important construction projects around the country," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., the Senate's second-ranking Republican leader, told "Fox News Sunday" that he expects GOP lawmakers will vote to extend unemployment benefits this week.
The Senate has already passed a separate jobs bill that also contains an extension of unemployment benefits and highway programs. House leaders have said they hope to pass the Senate jobs bill on Tuesday. If that happens, the bill could be signed into law Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning, ending the furloughs.
Furloughs will affect employees at the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Research and Innovative Technology Administration.
LaHood said construction workers will be sent home from job sites because federal inspectors must be furloughed.
Among the construction sites where work will be halted: the $36 million replacement of the Humpback Bridge on the George Washington Parkway in Virginia; $15 million in bridge construction and stream rehabilitation in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; and the $8 million resurfacing of the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi.
At the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the furloughs are expected to disrupt safety programs that operate in partnership with states and advocacy groups, including drunken driving, child passenger safety and motorcycle safety programs, the department said. The portions of NHTSA that deal with automobile recalls like the recent Toyota Motor Corp. recalls are not affected.
On the Net:
Transportation Department: http://www.dot.gov