About 4,000 employees of the Federal Aviation Administration will remain furloughed into September after U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid failed today to break the impasse over the agency’s funding.
That deadlock will mean a continued halt to airport construction projects, including demolition of the old control tower at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, that were stopped when the agency’s authorization expired July 22. The FAA also is losing $28.6 million in aviation taxes each day the deadlock continues, Laura Brown, an agency spokeswoman, said by telephone.
Reid said he was prepared to accept the House bill to extend the FAA’s revenue-raising authority through Sept. 16 and eliminate subsidies for flights to 13 rural airports, including one in his home state of Nevada. Other Senate Democrats refused to accept the cuts that were in the House bill, Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Reid, said in an e-mail. The impasse cannot be resolved until Congress returns from its recess Sept. 6.
“Four thousand air-travel employees are out of work and safety inspectors are working without pay because Republicans are playing reckless games with airline safety,” Jentleson said.
Republican senators yesterday blocked efforts by Senator Jay Rockefeller to offer two counter-proposals, one that dropped the rural airport subsidies and another to cut $71 million from the program. The West Virginia Democrat is chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
The stand-off continued today as Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma stopped Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California from bringing up an extension bill without the subsidy cuts. Boxer prevented Coburn from moving the House’s version.
To end the FAA furloughs, senators would have to adopt a proposal that the House could accept by unanimous consent or approve the House-passed bill without alteration so it could go directly to the president for his signature.
The furloughs, which exclude air-traffic controllers, are preventing the FAA from distributing $2.5 billion in grants to fund airport projects around the U.S., idling 70,000 construction workers, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.
The FAA has been operating under a series of short-term extensions since its multiyear reauthorization bill expired Sept. 30, 2007.
Reid had attempted to push through the House’s bill after President Barack Obama, speaking from Washington today, called on Congress to “break this impasse now, hopefully before the Senate adjourns, so these folks can get back to work.”