Congress once again ran FAA operations almost to the wire last month before finally agreeing on a 22nd “temporary” extension of the agency’s operating authority, thus preventing another partial shutdown of the FAA and a work stoppage affecting more than 200 airport construction projects and safety improvements.
The last-minute deal brokered in the Senate on September 15 averted the second furloughing of about 4,000 “non-safety” FAA employees and the idling of more than 75,000 construction workers at airports across the country.
The House had approved a stopgap, four-month extension of FAA program authorization and funding on September 13 and sent it over to the Senate for further action. But the measure got bottled up in the upper chamber over procedural rules and the intransigence of one senator.
Because the FAA extension also included an extension of highways funding, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) placed a “hold” on the bill over a requirement that individual states must spend a small portion of their highways program money on bike and walking paths and other projects aimed at drawing tourists.
Without congressional action before September 16, the FAA would have been forced to lay off thousands of workers and halt work on scores of airport construction projects, just like it had to do in late July when the 20th temporary extension expired. That idled FAA workers without pay and shuttered the more than 200 airport projects that were already under way.
Meanwhile, the federal treasury lost nearly $400 million in airline ticket taxes and general aviation fuel taxes because the FAA no longer had the authority to collect the fees during the two weeks that it took Congress to approve the 21st extension.
Under a compromise reached late September 15, Senate leaders promised Coburn that provisions he objected to would be eliminated in a long-term highways funding bill that is expected to be passed next year. Once Coburn was mollified, the FAA extension sailed through the Senate on a vote of 92 to 6.
The FAA has operated on short-term funding measures since October 2007, when the last long-term reauthorization bill expired. A new long-term FAA reauthorization has been gridlocked over partisan bickering about aviation labor issues, flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and federal subsidies to regional airlines that operate in and out of smaller airports.
“With the FAA bill delayed four-and-a-half years and a two-year delay on the highway measure, Congress must now act responsibly to enact long-term reauthorizations that will put Americans back to work and build our nation’s infrastructure,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “The 22nd FAA extension and eighth highway bill extension must be the last,” he concluded.