The House and Senate began a five-week recess on Tuesday without resolving a funding stalemate at the Federal Aviation Administration, leaving 4,000 agency employees and 80,000 contractors high and dry.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) announced shortly before 7 p.m. that the chamber was in recess until Sept. 6. The House, which wrapped up its legislative business on Monday, will not be in session again until Sept. 7.
The impasse is over a proposal by House Republicans to cut funding for a program for airports in several rural areas. Also at issue is a longer-term FAA reauthorization bill containing provisions restricting airline workers’ collective bargaining rights.
Earlier Tuesday, Reid had told reporters that absent a resolution, Senate Democrats might be willing to consider the House Republicans’ version of the FAA reauthorization bill.
“As we learned with this big (debt-limit) deal we’ve just done, 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. “And I’m willing to give that up; I hope other senators would do the same.”
But on Tuesday night, Reid announced that he was not going to ask for consent on the FAA bill.
“Four thousand air travel employees are out of work and safety inspectors are working without pay because Republicans are playing reckless games with airline safety,” he said in a statement. “Republicans are trying to jam through a policy that benefits the CEO of Delta Airlines, and laying off thousands of air travel workers just because they are not getting their way.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not comment on the impasse.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — a former member of Congress — has been urging lawmakers to resolve the impasse. And in an interview with CNN Tuesday, FAA Administrator J. Randolph Babbitt said that “this can’t go on a day longer, much less six weeks longer.”
“We’re going to suffer a lot of long-term damage,” Babbitt said. “We have billions of dollars in construction money that should be going out the door that’s not. This is money that’s available. We can’t spend it under this construct. Again, we have 4,000 employees put out of work.”
In addition to leading to the furloughs of tens of thousands of workers, the impasse has cost the government $30 million a day in uncollected ticket taxes. If the partial shutdown continues until Sept. 7 — the earliest day that both chambers could act — that would amount to $1.4 billion lost.
Even though both chambers are in recess, the political jockeying looks to continue: Reid, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) will hold a news conference at 11:30 Wednesday morning at which the FAA impasse is expected to be a main item on the agenda.
Before recessing Tuesday, the Senate did take up one aviation-related measure: by unanimous consent, it voted to designate Aug. 16 as “National Airborne Day.”