Lawmaker: FAA negotiators 'have almost nothing to say to each other'

The last short-term extension of the FAA funding bill that expired in 2007 is set to expire at the end of January 2012, setting the stage for another impasse like the one that led to the FAA being partially shutdown this summer. About 4,000 FAA workers were furloughed for nearly two weeks during the shutdown.

The furloughs ended when an agreement was reached to remove the issues that led to the congressional impasse from the short-term extension, but that left them unresolved.

Rockefeller said this week that the repeated short-term extensions of the FAA's funding, as well as the possibility of another shutdown, made him "angry."

But he also said that the players involved in the fracas that led to the furloughs have not changed their positions much since then.

"They're very set-in-their-ways people who are looking at each other thinking not at all about the future of the aviation system or the people they represent," Rockefeller said.

The House and Senate each passed long-term authorization bills for the FAA last year, with the lower chamber approving a four-year, $59 billion measure for the beleaguered agency and the Senate passing a two-year, $34 billion bill.

But negotiations between the chambers bogged down before they could even take off when the House inserted provisions into their version of the bill to make it hard for transportation workers to unionize.

Democrats accused Republicans in the House of including cuts to rural air service subsidies in a short-term bill they passed for the FAA this summer when the long-term measure stalled in retaliation for their objection to the labor provisions.

The shutdown of the FAA is estimated to have cost the federal government $30 million per day in lost sales taxes on airline tickets. 

Rockefeller said in his speech this week that another shutdown of the FAA was "not out of the question."