The U.S. Senate approved legislation extending the Federal Aviation Administration’s funding authority through mid-September, ending a partisan standoff that forced the agency to furlough 4,000 workers.
The Senate approved the legislation in a non-voting session today. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it today.
Lawmakers agreed yesterday the Senate would accept the House-passed bill to extend the FAA’s authority through Sept. 16 and eliminate $16.6 million in subsidies for flights to 13 rural airports.
The agreement between House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid extends funding through September. It includes controversial cuts to subsidies to rural flight service to airports in Nevada, West Virginia and Montana that cost the federal government about $16 million annually.
The agreement allowed the passage of the bill without calling the entire Senate back to Washington. In a pro-forma session, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) brought up the bill and asked for passage. Sen. Ben Cadin (D-Md.) gaveled the session which lasted about 30 seconds.
Through yesterday, the FAA lost an estimated $371.8 milliom in taxes, including on airline tickets, jet fuel and cargo, since its revenue-raising authority expired July 22, when the House of Representatives and the Senate failed to agree on an extension bill.
The bill does not address back pay for FAA workers. Congress would need to pass separate legislation to make that happen. “We need to give FAA authority to pay furloughed employees,” Justin Harclerode, a spokesman for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in an e-mail.
The deadlock also stopped the agency from distributing $2.5 billion in grants for airport projects around the country, idling 70,000 workers in construction and related jobs, according to the government.
The FAA has been operating on a series of short-term extensions since its last multi-year authorization law expired in September 2007. Today’s measure is the 21st. When Congress returns for votes on Sept. 7, it will have until Sept. 16 to either resolve its differences on the long-term funding bill or pass another limited extension to continue the FAA operations.
While the extension bill makes the FAA’s tax-collection authority retroactive to July 23, the four top tax legislators in Congress are asking the Internal Revenue Service not to retroactively collect airline taxes on flight tickets purchased during the lapse in the agency’s revenue-raising authority.
“We encourage you to utilize all your discretion and authority to extend relief for passengers and airlines with respect to ticket taxes that were not paid or collected because of the lapse and provide the industry a three-day period of time to restart processes to collect the taxes,” according to the letter, dated yesterday.
It was written by the top two members of the Senate Finance Committee, Democrat Max Baucus of Montana and Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, as well as the top two members of the House Ways and Means Committee, Republican Dave Camp and Democrat Sander Levin, both of Michigan.
Already, Americans for Prosperity, a tea party group, is saying the deal as passed is "in plain violation of what the law says the basic constitutional principle of separation of powers." They don't believe LaHood can use his executive authority to exempt some airports from the cuts.
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