Parties trade blame as FAA shutdown looms

A key House Republican on Wednesday blamed Democrats for the possibility that parts of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would shut down on Friday, as members debated a controversial Republican proposal to extend FAA funding.

The GOP bill, H.R. 2553, would extend airport and airway taxes that help fund the FAA until Sept. 16. Without the extension, these taxes will expire on Friday.

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But also in the bill is language that would prohibit federal subsidies for passenger airfares at 10 small airports because they are within 90 miles of medium-sized or large airports. The bill would also ban federal funding to three airports where passenger fares receive more than $1,000 per ticket in federal subsidies.

Senate Democrats have said they object to these changes, and are demanding that the House send the Senate a clean extension. But on Wednesday, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said Republicans would not change their bill.

Mica added that Senate Democrats would be blamed for an FAA shutdown if the Senate does not accept the bill, and openly talked about the chances of a partial shutdown.

"Certainly I don't want the FAA to close down at midnight on Friday night," Mica said. "And that won't happen. Essential services will continue, air traffic controllers will be at their job. There may be some people furloughed.

"But it is not my fault," he continued. "It will be the responsibility of the other body who does not take this up and pass it. They will be furloughing people and putting people out of jobs."

A Republican staffer noted on Wednesday that the language barring funds for airports closer than 90 miles is already in the Senate bill, and that this language therefore should not be a problem for the Senate to accept. This language would affect four airports in Pennsylvania, and others in Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, New York, Tennessee and West Virginia.

The staffer also noted that the language related to subsidies above $1,000 per ticket would only affect three airports in Montana, Nevada and New Mexico. He said Senate rejection of the House will would therefore only be because of changes affecting these airports.

On the House floor, Mica dared members to vote against a bill that would cap federal passenger subsidies at $1,000 a ticket.

"I want to see folks come down here and vote to continue subsidies for more than $1,000," Mica said. "One of these subsidies … is $3,719 per passenger. That's obscene when our country's on the verge of debt crises and disaster." Mica was referring to subsidies at the Nevada airport; subsidies at the other two airports are about $1,500 per ticket.

Transportation Committee ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) said Republicans should be blamed for failing to appoint conferees to House and Senate versions of a longer-term FAA extension. Democrats oppose House Republican language that would make it harder to form air and rail unions, but Rahall said nonetheless that conferees should be appointed.

"What is the Republican leadership waiting for?" Rahall asked.

Mica rejected these and other arguments during House debate, and said Democrats need to choose between allowing a partial FAA shutdown and accepting House language limiting subsidies to 13 airports.

"That's the only thing standing between us and shutting down part of our Federal Aviation Administration," Mica said.

The House approved the legislation Wednesday afternoon in a 243-177 vote in which 13 House Democrats voted with Republicans. House passage sent the bill to the Senate.

-- This story was updated at 3:24 p.m. to reflect House passage, and again at 4:57 p.m. to add other details.