Congress reaches compromise to end partial FAA shutdown

Posted Aug. 04, 2011, at 9:16 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Congress has reached a bipartisan compromise to end the two-week partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration that has idled 74,000 federal employees and construction workers and cost the government about $30 million a day in uncollected airline ticket taxes, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said Thursday.

The deal would allow the Senate to approve a House bill extending the FAA’s operating authority through mid-September, including a provision that eliminates $16.5 million in air service subsidies to 13 rural communities. Passage of the bill is expected Friday. Senators have scattered for their August recess, but the measure can be approved if leaders from both parties agree to adopt it by “unanimous consent.”

“I’m pleased to hear that a deal is in the works to end this unnecessary shutdown. I’m just sorry it took so long and got to this point,” said Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud, who represents Maine’s 2nd District and is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “As a result of Washington’s inaction, millions of dollars were wasted and thousands were kept off the job. I encourage congressional leaders to iron out their differences so that we can get a long-term reauthorization passed as soon as possible.”

Republicans had insisted on the subsidy cuts as their price for restoring the FAA to full operation. But the cuts may become moot.

The bill includes language that gives Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood the authority to continue subsidized service to the 13 communities if he decides it’s necessary.

“Only LaHood can decide how he will use his waiver authority,” said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Reid.

But Democrats said they expect the administration to effectively waive or negate the cuts.

“I just know that the White House has provided assurances that they [the communities] will be held harmless,” said a Senate Democratic leadership aide who asked not to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the deal.

The shutdown began when much of Washington was transfixed by the stalemate over raising the government’s debt ceiling. During that time, the FAA furloughed 4,000 workers but kept air traffic controllers and most safety inspectors on the job. Forty airport safety inspectors worked without pay, picking up their own travel expenses. Some 70,000 workers on construction-related jobs on airport projects from Palm Springs, Calif., to New York City were idled as the FAA couldn’t pay for the work.

Rebecca Hupp, director of Bangor International Airport, said the FAA shutdown could have delayed a $4 million project to reconstruct the airport’s general aviation aircraft parking area. But she said the project wouldn’t have started until next year in any event.

“We had some concerns at the beginning of the year,” Hupp said. “The FAA had been operating under a continuing resolution for some time. We opted to be conservative and postpone the work until next year.”

The partial FAA shutdown had resulted in four stop-work orders at Portland International Jetport on projects connected to construction of a new air traffic control tower.

“This is great news and we’re pleased,” jetport director Paul Bradbury said after learning of Reid’s announcement about the compromise.

He said he would have been happier with a longer deal, however.

“The better news would’ve been a multiyear reauthorization that we will all keep our fingers crossed for,” he said.

BDN writer Ryan McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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