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Twenty extensions later, the
House and Senate still are bickering over certain clauses within the Federal
Aviation Administration's Reauthorization bill, stymieing any progress. FAA's
current extension expires on Friday, but with Congress at a standstill, hopes
of passing a full reauthorization bill appear faint, and passing another FAA
funding extension is also in jeopardy.
The most recent House FAA
extension bill, introduced last week, would limit unionization and cut funding
for the Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes smaller U.S. airports.
The House's version of the extension is "irresponsible," said Senate
Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation chair John Rockefeller
"With this latest FAA
extension, the House has demonstrated that it is not serious about getting a
comprehensive bill done. By sending over a bill that can't pass the Senate, we
risk shutting down our nation's aviation system," Rockefeller said in a
By not compromising on the
EAS program, the Senate said it refused to pass a bill that would cut a program
impacting "more than 100 communities nationwide." Further,
Rockefeller wrote in a letter to the House that its actions "will likely
shut the FAA down."
Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines
last week announced plans to eliminate service to 24 small U.S. markets, most
subsidized by the EAS program.
Transportation Committee chair John Mica (R-Fla.) agreed that a FAA
reauthorization bill must be passed, the House remained firm on cutting EAS
funding and limiting unionization.
"It is unfortunate that
we have been put in this position, again, by the current Senate leadership who
refuse to negotiate in the best interest of the American public," Mica
said in a statement. Mica argued that the proposed EAS cuts were
"modest" and "would limit Essential Air Service eligibility to
communities that are located 90 or more miles from a large or medium hub
airport, resulting in $12.5 million in annual savings."
However, the stalemate could
shut down a portion of FAA operations, according to Transportation Secretary
Ray LaHood and FAA administrator Randy Babbitt.
"Congress needs to stop
playing games, work out its differences, and pass a clean FAA bill immediately.
There is no excuse for not getting this done," said LaHood in a joint
statement with Babbitt. "Important programs and construction projects are
at stake. This stalemate must be resolved."
"We are going to be
forced to furlough valuable FAA employees unless this situation is resolved
quickly," said Babbitt. "These employees do everything from getting
money out the door for airport construction projects, to airport safety
planning and NextGen research. We need them at work."
If Congress does not pass
the 21st extension, "approximately 4,000 employees will be furloughed
beginning Saturday, July 23, 2011," according to LaHood.
As for labor unions, the
House and Senate disagreed on the final bill's provisions. The House version of
the bill would limit unionization by overturning a National Mediation Board
rule that would allow employees to form a union by a simple majority vote.
Previously, workers who didn't vote essentially voted "no."
"House and Senate
negotiations on the FAA bill have resulted in significant progress over the
last several months," said Mica. "However, it is time for the Senate
to put the safety of the traveling public above their own political posturing
and paybacks to the labor movement. Clearly, some in the Senate have made a
political decision to put special interest labor provisions above the safety of
our nation's aviation system."