“Don’t hold your breath,” advised one Senate staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Senate Commerce Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) late Monday called on the House to meet with its Senate counterparts Wednesday to work on resolution of the disagreement.
House Transportation Chairman John L. Mica (R-Fla.) responded that the Senate should instead adopt a House plan.
More than 4,000 FAA staff members, including about 1,000 in the Washington region, were furloughed when a stop-gap funding extension expired at midnight Friday. Construction projects at several airports across the country were halted.
Congress has extended FAA funding 20 times since its last long-term funding authorization expired in September 2007. Last week, when the House approved its version of the 21st extension, it included a provision curtailing subsidies for flights to several small airports. The Senate balked at that provision, joining the Obama administration in demanding a “clean” extension bill.
“The fact that Congress can’t work this out is exactly why the American people are fed up with Washington,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Monday. “There’s no excuse for Congress failing to pass a clean FAA bill, the way they have done on 20 other occasions.”
The House showed no inclination Monday to produce such a bill, and the Senate did not move to send a provision-free extension bill over for House approval.
“Secretary LaHood keeps saying Congress has to pass a clean extension,” said a House Transportation Committee staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It doesn’t. Congress simply has to pass an extension. Also, he keeps saying Congress has passed a clean extension 20 times already. Not every previous extension was clean.”
The 15th House extension was sent to the Senate last year with a series of provisions regarding pilot fatigue and aviation safety.
The provisions in the current House bill reflect an as yet unresolved issue in long-term FAA funding bills passed by the House and Senate this year. There is disagreement over the future of the Essential Air Service system, a program that subsidizes commercial air service to small airports mostly in rural regions. EAS was launched with airline deregulation in 1978 as a 10-year effort to ensure service to those airports while establishing their commercial viability. Its life span has been extended by Congress ever since, its cost growing from $7 million a year in 1978 to $163 million today.
The Senate reauthorization bill eliminates EAS funding for 10 airports that are within a 90-mile drive of a larger airport. The House bill would eliminate the program everywhere but in Alaska and Hawaii by Oct. 1, 2013.