LaHood shifts gears, presses Senate to accept House FAA bill

Saying it was the only way to avert a month-long shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday that the Senate should accept a House version of a short-term funding bill for the agency despite provisions it finds objectionable.

The announcement was a marked shift for LaHood, who as recently as Monday was pushing the House to adopt a "clean" bill for the FAA that did not have cuts to subsidies for rural air service the Senate had resisted passing for two weeks.

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But with the House having adjourned until Sept. 7, LaHood said the Senate should take what it can get. 

"We need the Senate to pass the House bill, before they go on their vacations, to put 4,000 people back to work and 70,000 construction workers," LaHood said on a conference call.


LaHood said that if the Senate passed the House bill before lawmakers left for their recess, President Obama would sign it, ending the 11-day impasse that has led to 4,000 FAA workers being furloughed since July 23. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) indicated Tuesday that he would be OK with the Senate passing the House FAA bill, though one of three airports targeted in the Essential Air Service cuts by the House is in his home state of Nevada.

"We learned with this big deal ... sometimes you have to step back and find out what's best for the country and not be bound by some of your own personal issues," Reid said Tuesday. "And I'm willing to give that up. I hope the other senators will do the same."

But Reid told senators Tuesday they could start going home, meaning he would need unanimous consent to take up the House FAA bill. All hearings in the Senate were postponed Tuesday afternoon.


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The office of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who is the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, would not comment on the possibility of the upper chamber accepting the House FAA bill. But the senator's office also would not rule it out, which is by itself a big change in posture since before the shutdown began.

LaHood took it a step further Tuesday afternoon, saying outright that it was "time for the Senate to take action, which they can do today, and the president will sign it.”

"The only legislative fix at the moment, given the fact that the House has gone home, is for the Senate to pass the House bill," he said.

LaHood has previously argued that the House should save the EAS provisions for the longer FAA bill, calling instead for the chamber to adopt a "clean" short-term extension through September. But he did not mention the word "clean" Tuesday as he implored the Senate to accept the House bill as is so the FAA would be funded through Sept. 16, a week after the chamber plans to return from recess.

Rockefeller has previously said the House's position on the FAA was "not policy. This is pettiness.”

“It’s the typical ‘my way or the highway’ that has become the mantra of House Republicans,' ” he said on the floor of the Senate last week, accusing House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) of doing the bidding of Delta Airlines in pushing for the labor provision that has bogged down the long-term FAA bill.

“I wish I could understand why the desires of one company … matters more than thousands who have been furloughed,” he said.

Rockefeller's office said the senator would comment on the ongoing FAA negotiations Tuesday afternoon.