FAA Chief’s Nomination Faces Uncertain Future in Senate

A Republican U.S. senator plans to try to hold up the confirmation of Michael Huerta to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, a spokesman said within hours of Huerta winning approval at the committee level.

While the nomination passed the Commerce Committee unanimously today, Senator Jim DeMint objects, Wesley Denton, a spokesman for the South Carolina Republican, said in an interview.

“Senator DeMint would want to have a full debate and vote on this nominee as he has strong concerns about the FAA’s labor policies,” Denton said. Requesting those steps could stall the nomination under Senate rules.

Denton didn’t identify the labor issue that concerns DeMint. The FAA in 2009 gave air-traffic controllers higher wages in a contract that restored pay grades that had been taken away by President George W. Bush’s administration.

The FAA administrator, unlike many other positions appointed by the president, has a five-year term. DeMint opposes confirming Huerta for that period, Denton said. If approved, Huerta would serve through the next president’s term, regardless of who wins election in November.

Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, said he hoped that Republicans wouldn’t object to the nomination because of Huerta’s ties to their party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.

Romney Link

While nominated by Democratic President Barack Obama, Huerta previously was managing director of the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee under Romney. Denton declined to comment on whether that background would make a difference.

Rockefeller, in an interview after today’s hearing, said he assumes Republicans will oppose Huerta in spite of that link.

Huerta, 55, has been the agency’s acting administrator since December, when Randy Babbitt resigned after being arrested on a drunk-driving charge for which he was later acquitted.

Democratic senators four years ago blocked the nomination of acting FAA administrator Bobby Sturgell. Sturgell had been nominated by Bush, a Republican, near the end of his term.

A group representing families of air-crash victims endorsed Huerta today in an e-mailed release. Relatives of victims from the Feb. 12, 2009, crash near Buffalo of a Pinnacle Airlines Corp. Colgan Air flight said they had forged a good relationship with Huerta.

The group, Families of Continental Flight 3407, has criticized how long it has taken FAA to impose safety regulations mandated two years ago by Congress. It said in the release that Huerta had pledged to speed up new rules.

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