Congress reaches deal on FAA shutdown

Congressional leaders reached agreement Thursday on stopgap funding for the Federal Aviation Administration, ending a stalemate that cost 4,000 furloughed federal workers almost two weeks of pay and drained more than $300 million from the Treasury.

“I am pleased to announce that we have been able to broker a bipartisan compromise between the House and the Senate to put 74,000 transportation and construction workers back to work,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday afternoon. “This agreement does not resolve the important differences that still remain. But I believe we should keep Americans working while Congress settles its differences, and this agreement will do exactly that.”

He gave no immediate explanation of how the compromise was reached.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called the deal a “tremendous victory for American workers everywhere.

“From construction workers to our FAA employees, they will have the security of knowing they are going to go back to work and get a paycheck, and that’s what we’ve been fighting for,” LaHood added. “We have the best aviation system in the world and we intend to keep it that way.”

Lawmakers allowed funding for the FAA to expire July 23, leaving 4,000 agency workers on furlough and 70,000 people in construction-related jobs out of work.

The battleground that caused partial shutdown of the agency was over a bill to extend funding until September. House and Senate committee staff members have been negotiating for weeks to iron out differences between the two long-term funding bills.

The House bill would allocate about $15 billion per year for each of four years; the Senate bill has an average of about $17.3 billion per year for each of two years.

The minor issues that have proved to be major obstacles involve a controversial labor ruling, the number of flights that should be added at Reagan National Airport, and federal subsidies for commercial services to small airports.

The House bill would add 10 daily round-trip flights at National and the Senate bill 24 such trips. Other minor differences include how airlines would be chosen to receive the slots.

The labor issue became the focal point of the contention. At issue is a National Mediation Board rule that mandates that airline unionization efforts be decided by a majority of those who vote, negating a long-standing rule that said eligible voters who cast no ballot would be counted as voting against unionization.

The House long-term funding bill would reverse that ruling.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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