Congress urged to tackle FAA funding bill before recess


U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, left, and FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt discuss the interruption in federal funding for airport construction projects and contractors at a news conference in New York on Monday. (Henny Ray Abrams/Associated Press)

Congress appears ready to head off on summer vacation without resolving a funding stalemate that has resulted in the furlough of 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration employees and layoffs for about 70,000 airport construction workers.

The workers — including about 1,000 FAA employees in the Washington region — faced the prospect of going without a paycheck until after Labor Day. The agency also would lose an estimated $1.2 billion in ticket-tax revenue.

“This just does not make sense,” said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Tex.), breaking ranks with House and Senate Republicans. “Is that fiscal responsibility? I don’t think so. It doesn’t pass the smell test.”

The deadlock is over a ruling by the National Mediation Board that favored union efforts to organize airlines.

Republicans want to reverse an NMB rule that union-organizing elections should be decided by a simple majority of those who vote. They want to revert to a decades-old rule that stipulates that in airline elections, eligible voters who don’t cast a ballot be counted as voting “no.”

“This is not some little issue,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), denouncing a “runway National Mediation Board.”

“They are running ramshackle over labor law in this country,” Hatch said, “so they can give the unions a decided advantage that should not be given in any circumstances in a union election.”

Hatch blocked a Democrat effort to extend FAA funding until September.

The House this year passed a long-term FAA reauthorization bill that would negate the NMB ruling. With the majority of senators content with the NMB ruling, their long-term bill did not address the issue.

With congressional staff members trying to resolve that and other differences before a formal conference committee was convened, House Transportation Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-Fla.) sought to spur resolution by including a controversial provision in a stop-gap extension passed last month.

Although the provision had nothing to do with labor law, it raised the ire of senators and their refusal to approve the encumbered bill led to the partial shutdown of the FAA.

“It’s not honorable,” Hutchinson said. “Let’s pass a clean extension.”

The provocative provision would have cut air-service subsidies to airports in the home states of Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) took the Senate floor Monday for the third time since the July 23 shutdown to denounce Mica.

“It’s a tragedy about ego, about bullying, about an attempt to prove that one side will cave,” Rockefeller said. “It’s sort of the worst kind of political bickering that the American people are sick of.”

With House members beginning to head home Monday and the Senate expected to decamp Tuesday or Wednesday, the only option to end the partial shutdown would be for the Senate to pass the House-approved extension to which Rockefeller and others object.

“Congress should not leave on its summer vacation until they finish an FAA [funding] bill,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Monday. “Don’t hold hostage innocent people who are not getting their pay check.”

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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