Short-term FAA-funding Bill May Be Lofted

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 3 (UPI) — Democratic lawmakers may offer a short-term U.S. Federal Aviation Administration funding bill after Congress took a five-week recess without funding the agency.

The bill would end a partial shutdown of the agency that regulates and oversees all aspects of U.S. civil aviation, without cutting funding for rural airports and without addressing disputed provisions restricting airline workers’ collective-bargaining rights, aides to the lawmakers said.

Those rights are under consideration in a longer-term FAA reauthorization bill.

The partial FAA shutdown, which began July 23 when an old funding law expired, furloughed 4,000 agency employees and about 80,000 workers employed by contractors.

The FAA has asked dozens of airport safety inspectors to work without pay and to charge their government travel expenses to their personal credit cards to keep airports operating safely, officials said.

The federal government is losing $30 million a day in uncollected airline ticket taxes.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., were expected to discuss the short-term proposal during a news conference at 11:30 a.m. EDT Wednesday, the aides said.

Under the lawmakers’ proposal, the Senate could immediately pass the short-term bill and the House could approve the measure a day or two later under a process known as “unanimous consent,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

The House began its August recess Monday and the Senate did the same Tuesday, but neither chamber technically adjourned.

House Republicans haven’t indicated whether they would support such a plan, the Journal said.

Without legislative action, the furloughed employees and contractors would likely remain on unpaid leave until at least Sept. 7, when both chambers are next scheduled to be in session.

“Four thousand air-travel employees are out of work and safety inspectors are working without pay because Republicans are playing reckless games with airline safety,” Reid said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had no immediate comment on the impasse.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters: “No safety issues will be compromised. Flying is safe. Air traffic controllers are guiding airplanes. Safety inspectors are on duty and are doing their job. No one needs to worry about safety.”

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said the safety inspectors were continuing their work “because of the risk to operational safety or life and property” if they didn’t.

“We can neither pay them nor can we compensate them for expenses,” he told reporters in a conference call. “We are depending and living on their professionalism at this point.”

It was unclear how long the inspectors could continue to pay the bills for their own travel and hotel expenses. Typically, each of the roughly 40 regional inspectors travels to up to five airports in a two-week period, FAA officials said.

The House passed a bill last month to extend FAA financing through Sept. 16 and allow it to continue collecting the ticket tax. But the House bill would end $14 million in subsidies that provided commercial airline service to 16 rural airports.

The law was written in a way that Democratic lawmakers said appeared to single out airports in the states of prominent Senate Democrats, The New York Times reported.

Reid said Republicans were using the rural-airport issue as cover for an effort to change a recently instituted federal labor regulation that made it easier for unions to organize at airline companies.

The new regulation by the National Mediation Board — an independent government agency that coordinates labor-management relations within the railroad and airline industries — says union-organizing elections should be decided by a simple majority of those who vote.

Republicans want to go back to a decades-old rule that says in airline union-organizing elections, votes of eligible voters that are not cast should be counted as “no” votes.

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