House Passes FAA Extension

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After a partial shutdown of airport operations in July and much disagreement about renewing highway programs, Congress is trying out a compromise. On Tuesday, the House approved a measure to keep the Federal Aviation Administration running until the end of January and to extend highway programs — and the federal gas tax — until the end of March.

MICHELE NORRIS, host: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Last month, Congress approved a temporary bill to extend operations of the Federal Aviation Administration. That ended a partial shutdown of the agency brought on by a nasty spat between Republicans and Democrats. The extension expires Friday, and it appears Congress has little appetite for another showdown.

Today, the House, in a rare voice vote, approved a four-month extension of the FAA and a six-month extension of the program that pays for highway and bridge construction. The Senate is expected to act in the next few days. NPR's Brian Naylor has that story.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Today's action stands in marked contrast to the acrimonious disagreement earlier this summer. That led to furloughs of some 4,000 FAA employees to act in the next few days. NPR's Brian Naylor has that story.

Today's action stands in marked contrast to the acrimonious disagreement earlier this summer. That led to furloughs of some 4,000 FAA employees and thousands more construction workers and cost nearly half a billion dollars in uncollected airline ticket taxes. Perhaps chastened by that experience, the House today easily approved another temporary extension of the FAA's authorization, along with a highway bill extension, which was set to expire at the end of this month. Both parties see the bill as a way to provide needed construction jobs. House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, a Florida Republican, says the measure provides some $5 billion for the FAA and more than 25 billion for highway and transit programs over the next six months.

Representative JOHN MICA: This isn't the time to bicker. This is the time to put people to work. This is the time to pass long-term re-authorization. This cannot be another Band-Aid.

NAYLOR: Of course, this is another Band-Aid, and yes, there was bickering in the brief House debate. Democrats charged Mica with putting poison pills in an earlier attempt at an FAA extension. That was reference to a provision Mica ultimately dropped that would have made it harder for unions to organize at airlines. Another pill Democrats won't have to swallow is a cut in subsidies for regional airports, which Senate Democrats vigorously opposed. Both provisions will be hashed out as lawmakers work on a longer term FAA bill.

Extending the highway bill and the accompanying gas tax was also an easy sell to lawmakers eager for construction jobs in their districts. Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio argued even more was needed.

Representative PETER DEFAZIO: We have 150,000 bridges that need replacement or repair, 40 percent of the pavement needs not just resurfacing but underlayment, $70 billion backlog on our aged transit systems, and that's just to give us an updated and state of good repair 20th-century transportation infrastructure.

NAYLOR: Transportation and construction groups are applauding the bipartisan, if temporary transportation bill. John Horsley of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials hopes it will lead to a long-term measure.

JOHN HORSLEY: If there's any area of government that is traditionally been bipartisan, it's in the highway and transit programs. That has enjoyed bipartisan support consistently for the last 50 years. So if there's any potential area of collaboration, this is it.

NAYLOR: But that's not to say the road ahead is clear. In the Senate, Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn is threatening to do all he can to block the measure. The reason: He wants to remove a provision in the bill that calls for states to set aside some of the highway funds for highway beautification and bike trails. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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