FAA Impasse Continues

Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic Senate have been at odds over reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration. The standoff now threatens to keep the agency closed through August and sacrifices a billion dollars in federal revenue being lost in ticket taxes while the FAA is offline.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: We've been telling you the government impasse is over but not the impasse that has caused a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration. The House passed a measure to temporarily extend the agency's authority to operate, but the House insisted on ending subsidies for some regional airports. Well, today, the Senate refused to go along, as NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: The FAA stalemate has been overshadowed by the deficit and debt ceiling debates in Congress but is taking its toll nonetheless. Four thousand FAA employees have been furloughed and the Obama administration says some 70,000 construction workers have been idled at airport and tower construction projects across the country. What's more, $30 million a day in airline ticket taxes have not been collected. As he announced passage of the debt ceiling bill in the Rose Garden this afternoon, President Obama also took a moment to urge lawmakers to end their dispute.

President BARACK OBAMA: It's another Washington-inflicted wound on America, and Congress needs to break that impasse now, hopefully before the Senate adjourns, so these folks can get back to work.

NAYLOR: House Republicans and Senate Democrats have been at odds over reauthorizing the FAA for some time. There are a number of sticking points: Republicans want to overturn a decision that would allow airline and railway employees to join unions more easily. The most recent squabble is about a $16 and a half million program called Essential Air Service, which provides a subsidy to rural airports. House Transportation Committee chairman John Mica drafted a provision that would partially roll back the subsidy. It would affect airports in the home states of a number of Democratic Senate leaders, including Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller. The House has refused to budge from the position, leading California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer to lash out at Republicans.

Senator BARBARA BOXER: So, we just get done with holding the full faith and credit of the United States of America hostage and now we're seeing an extension of the hostage-taking by the Republicans of the FAA.

NAYLOR: Republican Senator Tom Coburn, however, said both parties are to blame for not ending the stalemate.

Senator TOM COBURN: I understand we've placed people in difficult positions, but it's us as a body not individual senators or parties that have done that because we've failed to do our work.

NAYLOR: For a time today, it looked like the Senate was ready to blink and accept the House bill temporarily extending the FAA's authorization till mid-September. Majority Leader Reid said he was willing to - in his words - step back and do what's best for the country. But a spokesman for Senator Rockefeller says Reid's comments are now, quote, "out of date." And the squabble over the $16 and a half million program is costing the government nearly twice that each day it goes unresolved. Reid told NPR later this afternoon that the FAA might remain closed even after Congress returns to work in September. Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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