by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
The partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has led to 4,000 workers being furloughed, is set to continue through all of August.
The negotiations between President Obama and congressional leaders to raise the debt ceiling have largely obscured a work stoppage at the FAA that has dragged on for over a week.
But even with a debt-ceiling deal in place Monday, lawmakers were no closer to ending the worker furloughs that began in earnest July 23 — when the last appropriations for the FAA expired.
Members are set to leave town in the next few days for the August recess, which wouldn’t bring them back to Washington until after Labor Day.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Monday the lower chamber would leave after voting on the debt-limit legislation later that evening.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the upper chamber would pass a clean stopgap FAA bill before going on recess later this week, but the House would need to agree to that legislation and would not be in town to do so.
The House, meanwhile, has passed its own version of an FAA funding bill, which has stalled in the Senate.
FAA officials would not comment Monday on the timing of any vote on a reauthorization bill for the agency, but they said absent one, the workers will remained furloughed, even if Congress leaves Washington for a month.
And Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said members should consider other means of transportation for going home if they leave without an FAA deal.
“Members of Congress should not get on a plane to fly home for vacation without passing an FAA bill and putting thousands of people back to work,” LaHood said in a statement. “Congress needs to do its job for the good of these workers, for the good of our economy and for the good of America’s aviation system.”
LaHood did say now that the dockets are cleared of any debt talk, there was hope a short-term funding extension for the FAA could finally take off. But that was before Cantor made his schedule announcement.
“From the discussions I’ve had today with Reid, Sen. [Dick] Durbin [D-Ill.], my friends serving in the House and the White House, they’re focusing on this like a laser beam now that debt and deficit has been solved and there will be a vote on that,” LaHood said Monday during a conference call.
“I’ve been on the phone with people all weekend who can make this happen,” he said. “I’m going to continue to have constructive discussions throughout the week.”
LaHood added that he had talked with Republicans leaders, too, including House Speaker John Boehner’s (Ohio) chief of staff.
Despite passing 20 short-term extensions of the FAA bill since 2007, the House and Senate could not agree on a 21st measure, and the chambers remained gridlocked as the partial shutdown dragged into week two.
The impasse was caused by a provision in the House version of a short-term extension that eliminates some subsidies for rural air service through the Essential Air Service (EAS) program. A longer-term bill has been bogged down by a House effort to undo rules on unionization of railroad and airline employees that would make it harder for them to vote to collectively bargain.
Congress has not passed a long-term authorization bill for the FAA since 2004.
However, staffers in the House and Senate told The Hill on Monday that there was a possibility the Senate would offer a version of a funding bill that at least matched the House’s EAS cuts, the first real signs of movement since the two sides dug in to their positions more than a week ago.
Staffers on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hope doing so would prove the House’s stance on the bill is really about the labor provisions that have bogged down a larger FAA funding bill.
Although it seems clear the debt-ceiling talks removed a lot of the oxygen in Washington that could have gone to the FAA shutdown, aviation industry officials have chided lawmakers for neglecting the flight agency.
“Why can’t they multitask?” Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Veda Shook said on a conference call with reporters late last week when a debt-ceiling deal looked in doubt.
“I’m a flight attendant,” Shook continued. “When I go to work, I have to pay attention to what’s happening in front of me and behind me, ensure the safety of the passengers, all while pleasantly serving drinks. I would think a congressman could pass a bill to put people back to work while dealing with the debt ceiling.”