Members of Congress drifted back to Capitol Hill last month after spending most of August and the first week in September on their annual summer vacations. Talk immediately turned to the situation in Syria and the specter of another round of sequestration.
One of the major orders of business they faced–with the September 30 end of the 2013 fiscal year looming–was how to fund the government for FY2014. One of the first tasks was approval of a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to keep the government operating beyond October 1.
On September 20, the House of Representatives passed by a 230-189 vote a measure that would provide funding until December 15 at current post-sequestration spending levels. The measure (H.J. Res. 59) includes a highly contentious plan to defund the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health care reform law.
The bill moved to the Senate on September 23, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that no legislation that strips funding for the healthcare law will be approved. Without an agreement on the stopgap CR, most nonessential federal facilities would be closed on October 1.
House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) had hoped to keep the government open past September 30 with relatively little fuss. But the discussions will likely have a significant effect on future funding for the FAA, as well as the Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection.
Last spring, the FAA said it would begin furloughing some agency employees and close 149 contract control towers to comply with sequestration. As part of sequester-mandated cuts announced in late February, the agency also had planned to eliminate overnight shifts at 72 ATC facilities, including those at Chicago Midway Airport.
But Congress, realizing that most of its members would be inconvenienced by ATC delays over its spring vacation, passed a bill that staved off controller furloughs and produced “found” money to keep low-activity contract control towers operating. In less than 24 hours, lawmakers approved legislation allowing the FAA to transfer sufficient funds to end employee furloughs and keep all of the 149 low-activity towers open until September 30.
Last month, the American Association of Airport Executives and the Airports Council International-North America sent a joint letter to Congress urging lawmakers to take steps to avoid disruptions in the aviation system and warning them against further use of Airport Improvement Program (AIP) funds to pay for FAA operations, as was the case earlier this year with the diversion of more than $250 million in AIP funds.