WASHINGTON — A partisan stalemate that has partially shut down the Federal Aviation Administration will continue into September, stopping airport construction projects and depriving federal coffers of potentially more than $1 billion in uncollected ticket taxes, after congressional attempts to reach deal fell through on Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., initially told reporters that he would be willing to accept a House Republican bill to restore the FAA's operating authority even though it contained cuts in subsidies for rural air service that some Democrats oppose. But he later reversed course after a possible deal with House Republicans had fallen through.
The Senate was due to leave for its August recess Tuesday. The House left Monday.
"Republicans are playing reckless games with airline safety," Reid said in a statement. "We should not let ideology interfere with making sure that Americans' air travel runs as smoothly and safely as possible."
The FAA's operating authority expired on July 23, as well as the authority of airlines to collect about $30 million a day in ticket taxes, meaning the government will be unable to collect an estimated $1.2 billion in taxes if the shutdown continues until lawmakers return to work next month.
Nearly 4,000 FAA employees have been laid off and stop work orders issues for more than 200 construction projects. Air traffic controllers have remained on the job, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has vowed that safety won't be compromised and travelers won't be inconvenienced
Republicans blame Democrats for the shutdown, saying they have been unwilling to accept minor cuts to a rural air services program long criticized as wasteful. But Democrats said the air services cuts were being used as leverage to force them to give in to the House on a labor provision in a separate, long-term FAA funding bill that would make it more difficult for airline workers to unionize.
President Barack Obama implored Congress to settle the dispute before lawmakers leave Washington for the August recess, calling the stalemate "another Washington-inflicted wound on America."
LaHood, a former GOP congressman, conveyed the same message in a series of private meetings on Capitol Hill and phone calls to lawmakers, but was unable to clinch a deal.
With House Republicans gone, the only way Senate Democrats could end the shutdown was to accept a previously-passed House bill that includes a provision eliminating $16.5 million in air service subsidies for 13 rural communities.
The extension bill was necessary because the FAA's long-term operating authority expired in 2007. Since then, Congress has been unable to agree on a long-term funding plan. The agency has continued to operate under a series of 20 short-term extensions.
The labor provision would overturn a National Mediation Board rule approved last year that allows airline and railroad employees to form a union by a simple majority of those voting. Under the old rule, workers who didn't vote were treated as "no" votes.
Republicans complain that the new rule reverses 75 years of precedent to favor labor unions. Democrats and union officials say the change puts airline and railroad elections under the same democratic rules required for unionizing all other companies.
The White House warned in March that Obama would veto an FAA bill containing the labor provision.
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