Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood spoke before the White House press corps Thursday in an effort to pressure Congress to approve a routine funding measure that would end a nearly weeklong partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration.
LaHood took to the lecturn at the start of White House spokesman Jay Carney’s daily briefing to plead for lawmakers to end its partisan deadlock and send 4,000 furloughed FAA workers back to their jobs.
“This a time most of us [watching] politics have never seen before,” said LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, alluding to the congressional deadlock over a deal to raise the national debt ceiling, as well as to the FAA bill. “There are people in Congress who don’t like word compromise, who don’t believe in it.”
The short-term FAA funding extension expired last Friday night. If Congress had approved the stop-gap measure, the funding would have been extended for the 21st time since the FAA’s long-term funding authorization expired in 2007. But House Republicans added a provision to the extension bill that the Senate would not accept.
On Wednesday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and several other Senate Democrats, including Mark Warner (Va.), introduced legislation that would allow the furloughed workers to return to the job while the dispute plays out. The bill would permit the FAA to draw on the Aviation Trust Fund to pay the workers, who would be entitled to back pay.
At the press briefing, LaHood said: “Transportation has always been bipartisan. I ask Congress in a bipartisan way to come back and pass a clean [funding] bill, finish the negotiations, then get to a bigger FAA bill.”
The secretary stressed that despite the funding problems, air travel remains safe and reliable for passengers, explaining that those laid off were working in technology research.
“Flying is safe. Air traffic control workers all over America went to work today. ... Safety is not compromised,” LaHood said. “And, frankly the flying public’s travel plans will not be compromised.”
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