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Senate Democrats give way to GOP to end FAA shutdown

Sunday, August 7, 2011

WASHINGTON -- With tens of thousands of jobs, more than $1 billion and their reputations on the line, Senate Democrats gave way Friday to a power play by House Republicans in order to end a partial two-week shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration.

With lawmakers scattered for Congress' August recess, the consent of only two senators was required to pass a bill restoring the FAA's operating authority through Sept. 16. President Barack Obama signed it into law hours later.

But partisan differences remain, and a repeat performance of the legislative standoff could come next month.

The impasse had left hundreds of airport construction projects in limbo and idled tens of thousands of construction industry workers as well as nearly 4,000 FAA employees.

One of the biggest costs was to the hard-pressed U.S. treasury, which lost about $400 million in uncollected taxes during the two-week standoff and stood to continue losing $30 million a day -- more than $1 billion in total -- if there had been no solution before Congress returns from its recess.

For most of the stalemate, the nation's attention -- and that of Congress -- was riveted on the debt crisis finally tackled last week.

But that shifted. Lawmakers were getting calls about unfinished airport towers and construction companies in dire straits at home. Some unemployed workers found their way to Capitol Hill to complain.

Democrats had been holding firm against the House legislation on FAA operations because it proposed cutting air service subsidies to 13 rural communities. In short, they feared getting steamrolled on similar legislation in the future if they gave Republicans their way. For example, spending authority for federal highway programs expires Sept. 30, another possible point of contention.

But once the focus fell away from the deal to avert a federal debt default, Democrats began to waver and gave up the fight.

Republicans achieved the subsidy cuts in the final law but with a major caveat. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has the authority to continue subsidized service to the 13 communities if he decides it's necessary.

Obama's signature means the nearly 4,000 furloughed FAA employees can return to work as soon as Monday. Work can also resume on more than 200 airport construction projects.


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