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House approves funding extensions for FAA, highway programs

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Less than two months after a funding extension dispute caused a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, the House approved a bill Tuesday that would extend the agency’s funding for the 22nd time.

The bill was unburdened by the provisions that caused the earlier stalemate.

In passing a “clean” extension bill, the House ensured that Senate Democrats whose ire was raised last month would act to approve a four-month extension that will keep FAA funding at the level where it has been since 2007, when the last long-term funding bill expired.

The House bill also includes a six-month extension of funding for highway and transit programs.

“Extending these programs is critical to our economic recovery, and the pending measure does so without any poison pills or draconian cuts to investment in our surface transportation programs,” said Rep. Nick J. Rahall II (W.Va.), the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

But the committee’s chairman, John L. Mica (R-Fla.), stressed the importance of agreeing to long-term funding plans.

“While this legislation signifies a bipartisan, bicameral agreement to move forward, it must not be just a temporary Band-Aid for our important aviation, highway, rail and safety programs and for job creation,” he said. “This action represents a last chance to roll up our sleeves and get transportation projects in America moving again.”

Until the FAA extension turned into a test of wills between House Republicans and Senate Democrats, it was relatively routine for Congress to extend existing funding while working on big transportation spending packages. In July, the Senate balked when the House sent over an FAA extension with other provisions attached.

The House and Senate passed long-term FAA funding bills this year, but House leaders have opted to let staff negotiators try to resolve the differences before naming House members to a conference committee.

On the larger and more complicated issue of long-term funding for highway and transit, both chambers outlined their proposals this summer, but neither has introduced a bill.

Efforts have been hamstrung because the primary source of federal transportation funding, the gas tax, no longer produces sufficient revenue. Money from the general fund supplements gas tax revenue.

The two chambers have come up with strikingly different proposals.

The House, which is committed to a spending plan based on gas tax revenue, has talked of a six-year plan to provide about $35 billion a year, a sum that Mica says can be used to leverage double that amount through public-private partnerships. The Senate proposal would provide about $109 billion spread over two years.

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