LaHood on FAA bill: 'Congress may have recessed, but it has not adjourned'

Briefly Tuesday, it looked like members of the Democrat-controlled Senate were considering passing a temporary extension approved by the Republican-controlled House that contained cuts to rural air service subsidies because the House had already gone home.

But by day's end, the deal fell apart, leaving the FAA likely to remain partially shut down until September. Since July 23, about 4,000 FAA workers have been furloughed and countless airport construction projects have been stalled.

Transportation advocates estimate about 70,000 construction workers have been put out of work by the shutdown, which is costing the federal government approximately $30 million per day in money that would normally be paid in taxes on airline ticket sales.

The FAA is not allowed to collect the money and deposit it into the Aviation Trust Fund, which pays for the workers and the construction projects, unless Congress authorizes it do so.

The House-passed short-term extension eliminates some subsidies for rural air service through the Essential Air Service program, which Democrats argued should be handled in negotiations of a longer-term bill. However, that measure 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 bargain collectively.

The scenario described by LaHood on Wednesday, in which Congress returns from its traditional August recess to take up the FAA bill again, is unlikely. But if it doesn't happen, LaHood said it would be "a shame, especially in this economy."

"We are talking about families — good, working families, maybe friends of yours or neighbors — having to go without a paycheck," he wrote. "And if Congress doesn't act until reconvening after Labor Day, these families will have endured nearly 50 days without income."

But after Tuesday's negotiations, which were the first real signs of progress on the FAA impasse in more than a week, sputtered, that appears increasingly likely to happen.