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FAA shutdown averted

JetBlue plane takes off
FILE - In this June 2, 2010 file photo, a JetBlue airplane takes off from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. JetBlue introduced several new three-month, unlimited flight plans Thursday, July 28, 2011, in an attempt to snare more higher-paying business travelers. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Updated: 6:26 p.m. ET

With just about a day left to act, the Senate on Thursday passed a short-term bill to extend funding for the FAA through January and surface transportation funds through March, thus averting another costly shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration.

After already causing the FAA to shut down for about two weeks in the summer, Congress came close to it again this week because of the objections of one senator.

Republican Sen. Tom Coburn earlier this week refused to give his consent to let the Senate take up a pending FAA funding bill because he objected to spending in the legislation for projects he called unnecessary, like beautification projects and bike paths.

The Republican-led House on Tuesday passed an extension of FAA and highway funding, extending operating authority for the FAA through January 2012. If the Senate hadn't acted on the bill, the FAA's current operating authority would have expired on Friday at Midnight. Funding for highway and transit programs would have expired on Sept. 30.

Senate leaders announced on Thursday that they reached a deal to pass the bill by promising Coburn that the funding measure he opposes, which requires states to reserve 10 percent of federal transportation funds for enhancement projects, will be removed from the long-term funding bill Congress will pass next year.

The FAA partially shut down for about two weeks in late July when Congress was stalled over a funding measure. The standoff led to the furlough of about 4,000 FAA employees, and an estimated 70,000 other private-sector workers were also affected. It also cost the government about $30 million a day in uncollected airline ticket taxes, short-changing Uncle Sam about $400 million.

Had Coburn failed to reach a deal with Senate leaders, Senate rules would have forced the Senate to wait until Wednesday to take up the bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pressured Coburn all week on the issue, calling him a "dictator" for not going along with the short-term funding bill.