About 4,000 FAA workers were furloughed last week when the last appropriations bill for the FAA expired Friday at midnight. The House and Senate could not agree by then on a new measure, and the chambers are still gridlocked almost a week later.
The deadlock stems from a provision in the House version of a short-term extension of the FAA funding bill that eliminates some subsidies for rural air service through the Essential Air Service program. A longer-term bill has been bogged down by a House effort to undo rules on unionization of railroad and airline employees that would make it harder for them to vote to collectively bargain.
The FAA has not had a long-term authorization bill since the last measure that was passed in 2004 expired in 2007.
In his letter to House members Thursday, Mica said the Senate's objection to the airport subsidy cuts was overblown.
"The House extension contains Senate-passed language reforming the Essential Air Service (EAS) Program, including cutting any ticket subsidies in excess of $1,000 per ticket, which affects only three airports," he wrote. "Airline service for Ely, Nev., is subsidized an incredible $3,720 per ticket.
"Every ticket subsidy eliminated by the House-passed extension is also eliminated by the Senate’s long-term FAA bill, which it approved in February."
Democrats in the Senate have accused Mica of doing the bidding of Delta Airlines with the provision that forced the FAA shutdown. The airline has had numerous union elections in recent years that have ended up being reviewed by federal officials.
“I wish I could understand why the desires of one company … matters more than thousands who have been furloughed,” Mica's counterpart on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), said on the floor Wednesday.
“This is not policy. This is pettiness,” Rockefeller said Wednesday. “It’s the typical ‘my way or the highway’ that has become the mantra of House Republicans.”
In his letter Thursday, Mica did not use those exact words, but the effect might have been the same.
"There is a simple way forward," he wrote. "The Senate should take up and pass the House FAA extension and send it to the president for his signature. Then hardworking people can get back to work and the House and the Senate can resume negotiations on the long-term FAA reauthorization bill."
Democrats on Mica's committee filed a "clean" version of the short-term FAA bill this week, but they acknowledged they did not have the power to get the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to act on it without Mica's approval.