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"Shutdown of FAA possible in House-Senate clash"
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Shutdown of FAA possible in House-Senate clash
By JOAN LOWY
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - A quarrel between the House and Senate over union
organizing by airline and railroad workers could lead to a shutdown of the
Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA's operating authority expires on Friday. The agency has operated
under a series of 20 short-term extensions since Sept. 30, 2007, because
lawmakers have been unable to agree on a long-term funding bill.
The FAA's 15,500 air traffic controllers are essential employees and would
continue to work even if the agency's operating authority were to expire,
Republican lawmakers told the House Rules Committee on Tuesday.
FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown declined to comment on the agency's plans in
case its operating authority expires.
However, former FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said it's likely that other
workers would face furloughs. The agency employs about 32,000 workers in
addition to controllers. The extent of the furloughs would depend in part on
how much cash is available in the federal trust fund for aviation programs
and how long the shutdown goes on, she said.
In the event of a shutdown, airlines would no longer have to collect ticket
taxes, which average about $60 per round-trip ticket, aviation industry
The root of the dispute is a labor provision in a long-term FAA funding bill
passed by the House in April. The Republican-sponsored provision would make
it more difficult for airline and railroad workers to unionize by
overturning a National Mediation Board rule approved last year. It allows
employees in those industries to form a union by a simple majority of those
voting. Under the old rule, workers who didn't vote were treated as "no"
Senate Democrats, who passed their own long-term FAA funding bill in
February without the labor provision, have insisted that the labor issue be
removed from any final bill.
With negotiations at a stalemate, the chairman of the House Transportation
and Infrastructure Committee, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., introduced a bill last
week to extend the FAA's operating authority for the 21st time. Previous
extensions had been routine, but this time Mica added a provision
eliminating federal subsidies for airline service to 13 rural airports.
One of the airports is in Ely, Nev., home state of Senate Democratic leader
Harry Reid. Another is in Morgantown, W.Va., which is in the home state of
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and
Transportation Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over FAA
legislation. A third is in Glendive, Mont., the home state of Senate Finance
Committee Chairman Max Baucus, who has jurisdiction over the aviation tax
portions of the bill.
Total cost savings would be about $8.5 million, lawmakers said.
In a letter delivered to Mica late Tuesday, Rockefeller accused the GOP
lawmaker of inserting the airport provision into the extension bill in
retaliation for senators' refusal to accept the labor provision.
"Your attempt to punish the Senate by hurting small-community air service
has backfired. This language only guarantees that the Senate will reject the
FAA extension," Rockefeller said. Unless the House lawmakers agree to remove
the airport language, they risk a shutdown of the FAA, he said.
Mica acknowledged that he inserted the airport language into the extension
bill partly as a means to "send the Senate a message that we want this
The long-term funding bill approved by the Senate in February included a
provision ending subsidized air service for 10 of the 13 airports that would
be affected by the provision in the House extension bill. Mica said he
"tweaked" that language to include three more airports - in Nevada, Montana
and New Mexico - because their subsidies amount to more than $1,000 per
The blame for the delay belongs to Reid, who has been unwilling to negotiate
on the labor issue, Mica said.
"We can resolve this in a one-hour conference," he said. "The time to stop
messing around is now."
On the Net:
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee:
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee:
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