Congress May Leave FAA in Partial Shut-Down Mode

Congress may have sorted out a plan to raise the debt limit this week, but it’s in danger of leaving the Federal Aviation Administration in partial shut-down mode for the next month.

A dispute over rural air service and airline workers’ ability to unionize stopped Congress more than 10 days ago from passing a bill to keep the FAA fully operating. That caused the agency to temporarily lay off 4,000 FAA employees nationwide including 79 in Alaska. They’re out of work until a deal is reached, and they might be left hanging without pay until after Labor Day when Congress is supposed to come back from its August break. The partial shutdown has also halted airport construction projects, which is threatening 70,000 construction workers nationwide, according to the Obama Administration. It’s costing $30 million a day in uncollected airline ticket taxes, far more than the amount of money the original dispute is over.

Alaska’s Congressional delegation is imploring leadership to get something passed.  Senator Lisa Murkowski says members should not leave until a deal is reached.

“That needs to be resolved. It simply does. Whether it is the 79 Alaskans that have been furloughed, or the projects that are literally put on hold we can’t leave without this hanging. I know everyone’s been fixated on the debt issues, but we can’t get out of town until FAA reauthorization is positively dealt with as well.”

But the House went out on recess Tuesday, and the Senate is expected to gavel out soon. Either body could move forward to break the stalemate, but Senator Mark Begich blames one House member – Congressman John Mica of Florida, head of the Transportation Committee. He got legislation passed through the Republican led house that cuts rural air service in the lower 48 and sets new union rules for airline workers.

“Especially peak summer season, making sure the FAA is doing the job they need by doing the construction work that’s been scheduled that now will cost more, the revenue stream that goes to the airport, revenue not being collected now. This petty politics is killing and hurting this industry because of one individual.”

Senate Democrats have said the House bill is unacceptable, and they instead want a short term extension of what’s already in place to get the FAA running. Congressman Don Young may be a Republican but he does not like the Mica GOP plan and would not have voted for it, however he was out of town when the vote happened last month. For now neither side is capitulating, making it look increasingly likely that the furloughed workers will be out of work for a while.

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