By Keith Laing
President Obama on Thursday signed a bill that funds the Federal Aviation Administration re-authorization bill through May, as Congress began debating a longer-term measure that contains controversial amendments.
The White House said without additional comment that Obama signed H.R. 1079, dubbed the “Airport and Airway Extension Act of 2011," which was approved by Congress earlier this week. It continues FAA funding at current levels for 60 days, with an expiration date of May 31.
The measure is the 17th short-term extension of FAA funding passed by Congress.
The announcement of Obama's signature came as lawmakers began clashing over a four-year measure, H.R. 658, approval of which is entangled in a fight over labor organizing rights. The president has threatened to veto the bill if a change to union organizing rules for railroad and airline employees is left in the bill.
The controversial provision would undo rules adopted last year by the National Mediation Board to make it easier for unions to organize. Under the current rules, union elections are limited to workers that choose to vote — previously, non-votes were counted as no votes. A provision in the FAA bill would return to that standard.
Reps. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Jerry Costello (D-Ill.) have filed an amendment that removes the union provision, one of 33 amendments that have been cleared for votes of the full House.
Both Democrats and Republicans brought up the union provision as the bill was being introduced Thursday.
"You'll hear them moan and groan about some labor provisions," House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) said of the minority Democrats.
"Someone said we're taking away democratic rights; couldn't be further from the truth," Mica said.
"This is a lightning rod," Costello said. "It's part of an assault that we've seen far too often this year on collective bargaining."
Costello said the FAA bill would not clear the Senate if the union provision was left in the bill, and he raised the specter of Obama's veto threat.
"If we are serious about passing a long-term FAA bill, this provision must come out," he said. "If it remains in, it will be rejected by the Senate and the White House."
The House is scheduled to debate the FAA bill until about 7 p.m. Time has been reserved for the bill Friday as well, if needed.