Senate Dems to bring forward proposal to end FAA shutdown

C.J. Ciaramella Contributor
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Senate Democrats say they will put forward a proposal, possibly for vote tonight, that could end the more than week-long shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA has been partially shut down since July 23, when the Senate blocked a House-passed temporary funding extension of the FAA because of cuts to federal subsidies to rural airports.

According to staffers from the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, the proposed will offer spending cuts greater than those offered by the Republican-controlled House but will not slash funding to rural airports — part of the Essential Air Service Program (EAS).

“At that point, the EAS issue would clearly be off the table, and if the House still refuses to act it will be crystal clear that this whole exercise on their part was nothing but a political stunt to gain ‘leverage’ against worker right issues,” a Democratic staffer wrote in an email.

Since the shutdown, about 4,000 FAA employees have been furloughed, and Democrats have said somewhere between 70,000 and 90,000 construction workers are out of a job because of halted airport construction projects.

House Republicans contend their proposed cuts to the EAS were modest — saving only about $16 million annually — and Senate Democrats blocked the temporary funding bill only to protect airports that happen to be in several powerful Democrats’ districts. (RELATED: FAA shutdown continues while Dems, GOP play the blame game)

“Those 4,000 FAA employees have been furloughed so some in the Senate can protect their own political pork with airline ticket subsidies of more than $3,700 per passenger,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica said in a statement last week. “For example, subsidies are this exorbitant in Ely, Nevada for each of the 471 passengers flying in and out of the airport each year.”

In a conference call today, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called on Congress to pass an extension and end the shutdown.

“My plea to Congress is, before you head off on your family vacations, think about 4,000 FAA employees and 70,000 construction workers who are not getting a paycheck,” LaHood said. “Do not go on your vacations until this is settled.”

Since the shutdown, air traffic controllers and safety inspectors have remained on the job, but LaHood said the safety inspectors have been working without pay or reimbursement for travel from airport to airport.

LaHood said his preference is for a “clean” extension — one without any provisions or riders attached.

The last long-term FAA funding bill expired in 2007. The agency has operated on temporary funding extensions since then.