NPR logo Congress Declares FAA Truce; Partial Shutdown To End For Now

Congress Declares FAA Truce; Partial Shutdown To End For Now

Construction at August 4, 2011 at Washington Dulles International Airport outside the U.S. capital. PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Construction at August 4, 2011 at Washington Dulles International Airport outside the U.S. capital.


Updated at 6:09 pm ET —

Maybe it was an attempt by Congress to keep its 14 percent approval rating from dropping further.

Or maybe lawmakers were conscience-stricken by the stories of Federal Aviation Administration airport-safety inspectors continuing to work without pay, even using their own credit cards, to travel for their jobs.

Whatever the cause, it was certainly welcome news to the laid off 4,000 FAA workers, the 70,000 employees of contractors, and all their families that a truce was called Thursday in the partisan dispute between the Senate and the House that caused a partial FAA shutdown. Workers were sidelined for two weeks.

Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, made the announcement in a statement.

"I am pleased to announce that we have been able to broker a bipartisan compromise between the House and the Senate to put 74,000 transportation and construction workers back to work. This agreement does not resolve the important differences that still remain. But I believe we should keep Americans working while Congress settles its differences, and this agreement will do exactly that."

The extension goes to the middle of September.

Reid sent Speaker John Boehner a letter Wednesday urging an agreement to get the workers back to their jobs before Congress returns in September from its August recess.

President Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood have kept steady pressure on Congress to end the impasse which idled the workers. The White House press office issued a statement from Obama:

I'm pleased that leaders in Congress are working together to break the impasse involving the FAA so that tens of thousands of construction workers and others can go back to work. We can't afford to let politics in Washington hamper our recovery, so this is an important step forward.

The dispute boils down to the House wanting to thwart new rules that make it easier for unions to organize workers at airlines.That was anathema to the Democrat-controlled Senate.

The Senate wanted to continue federal subsidies to small airports that are part of the Essential Air Service. The Republican-controlled House insisted on cutting $16.5 million in subsidies to some rural airports, a move Senate Democrats opposed.

As Reid said in his Thursday statement, that still hasn't been settled.

The federal government has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in airline-ticket taxes during the shutdown.

Democratic congressional aides explained to journalists in an e-mail what's next and what was behind the truce. Essentially, Senate Democrats caved to spare the workers, the Democratic aides said:

Tomorrow the Senate will come in at 10 am for a pro forma session.

We expect that HR 2553 will be called up for consideration and approval and that there will be no opposition.

It could be over in a few minutes.

The bill is an extension of funding until Sept. 16th with $16 million in cuts to rural airport service slipped into it.

We've been asked if (Sen. Jay) Rockefeller (of W. Virginia) "released his hold" on this bill. Nope! Rockefeller never placed a hold on this bill.

We also were asked if Rockefeller got a letter to protect WV airports. Nope! And he didn't ask for one either.

As you know, his objection from Day 1 was three-fold:

  1. 1. The House extension was a terrible precedent and a display of bad faith by the GOP after months of negotiations.
  2. 2. Mica and others admitted they were gunning to undermine worker rights & used EAS as a distraction.
  3. 3. The White House issued a strong statement opposing Mica's extension & the caucus was in agreement.

The decision, in the end, came down to the GOP willingness to keep the FAA closed and jobs lost.

Our side was not willing to go that route.