By Keith Laing
The Senate will pass the House’s bill to fund the Federal Aviation Administration through September to end the week-and-a-half-long partial shutdown of the agency, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced Thursday.
Under a deal Reid made with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Senate will pass the House bill that includes cuts to rural flight service to airports in Nevada, West Virginia and Montana. But Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will use his authority to waive the airports from the cuts, ending a 13-day impasse that left 4,000 FAA employees and about 70,000 construction employees out of work.
“I am pleased to announce that we have been able to broker a bipartisan compromise between the House and the Senate to put 74,000 transportation and construction workers back to work," Reid said in a statement released by his office. "This agreement does not resolve the important differences that still remain. But I believe we should keep Americans working while Congress settles its differences, and this agreement will do exactly that.”
LaHood agreed, calling the deal "a tremendous victory for American workers everywhere."
"From construction workers to our FAA employees, they will have the security of knowing they are going to go back to work and get a paycheck — and that's what we've been fighting for," he said in a statement. "We have the best aviation system in the world and we intend to keep it that way."
The possibility of LaHood waiving the controversial provisions in the House FAA bill was raised earlier Thursday by Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), the vice chairman of the House subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.
LaTourette said he objected to LaHood's comments about Congress taking their "vacations" while putting people out of work because LaHood had the authority to scrub the provisions if the Senate passed the House bill.
But LaTourette predicted a deal to end the FAA furloughs would be reached soon.
"I would be shocked if this week turns into next week without something happening," he said during a news conference at the Capitol.
A Senate Democratic staffer said the possibility that LaHood would use his waiver authority was always on the table, but it was not pursued because the White House strongly preferred a "clean" bill.
"Nobody really liked it. It wasn't pretty," the staffer said.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did not mention LaHood's maneuver Thursday, saying only in a statement that Boehner was "pleased the Senate has agreed to pass the House-approved FAA extension tomorrow.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney said earlier Thursday that the president and Speaker had spoken about the FAA impasse Thursday, though Carney did not reveal any specifics of the discussion.
Carney did say the president conveyed that it was time for Congress to put an end to the impasse.
"At a time when we're trying to grow the economy and create jobs, it simply is inexcusable for Congress to not take steps they have taken in the past," Carney said. "For those folks who haven't had a paycheck now, this is day 13."
After the deal was announced Thursday afternoon, President Obama said he "pleased that leaders in Congress are working together to break the impasse involving the FAA so that tens of thousands of construction workers and others can go back to work.
"We can't afford to let politics in Washington hamper our recovery, so this is an important step forward," he said in a statement released by the White House.
The Senate will pass the House FAA bill to end the shutdown first thing Friday morning. Because it will be approved by unanimous consent, the proceeding will largely be a formality.
The House and Senate passed a 20th short-term extension of FAA funding in May when the chambers both passed versions of longer-term bills that were drastically different. The House version included provisions that would undo changes to labor rules adopted by the National Mediation Board to make it easier for railroad and airline workers to unionize.
The chambers passed an extension through July 22 when Obama issued a veto threat of the larger bill.
But as July 22 approached, House leaders added a provision to what would have been a 21st extension that cut subsidies for rural flight service to airports in Nevada, West Virginia and Montana. Noting the airports were in the districts of the Senate Majority Leader Reid, Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Democrats accused Republicans of retaliating politically for the Senate's objection to the labor provision.
The partial shutdown of the FAA, which lasted 13 days, was estimated to have cost the federal
government $30 million per day because the agency was not authorized to
collect taxes that would normally be paid on airline ticket sales.
Transportation observers estimate the shutdown also placed about 70,000 construction workers out of work because about 200 airport construction projects had been placed on hold.
With those numbers in mind, Airports Council International-North America (ACINA) President Greg Principato said he was "thrilled" lawmakers had reached a deal to end the shutdown.
"While airport projects across this nation have been delayed or postponed, and for some the construction season has been lost, it is great that thousands of construction personnel can get back to work," Principato said in a statement. "We also look forward to having our colleagues at the FAA back on the job working in partnership with airports to improve the safety, security and efficiency of the best aviation system in the world.”
—This post was updated with new information at 5:27 p.m.