The Senate on August 5 approved by unanimous consent a Federal Aviation Administration stopgap bill that keeps the agency funded through Sept. 16.
The bill is the measure that passed the House on July 20 and includes a controversial rider that trims the Essential Air Service (EAS) program, which subsidizes flights to rural airports.
Passage of the bill ends a congressional stalemate—at least for now—that had forced the FAA to issue stop-work orders on more than 200 airport projects, including a number of construction and engineering projects.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced on August 4 that Senate leaders had broken through the logjam that began on July 23 when the FAA furloughed 4,000 workers and halted all new construction projects.
“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,” he said. But he added that the 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.”
Reaction to the Reid’s announcement was swift.
In a statement, President Barack Obama said, “I'm pleased that Congress has passed an agreement which will allow tens of thousands of people to return to their jobs rebuilding runways and working on construction projects all over America, while removing the uncertainty hanging over the jobs of thousands of hardworking FAA employees. This impasse was an unnecessary strain on local economies across the country at a time when we can’t allow politics to get in the way of our economic recovery.”
Airports Council, North America President Greg Principato says, “Airports are thrilled with the news that Senate Majority Leader Reid has brokered a deal to get the FAA up and running again. While airport projects across this nation have been delayed or postponed, and for some the construction season has been lost, it is great that thousands of construction personnel can get back to work.
The impact of the two-week hiatus was significant, adds ACI-NA’s vice president for government and political affairs Jane Calderwood, noting that some projects will have to be rebid because projects were halted. The FAA estimated that the agency was losing $30 million a day during the stop-work period.
Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America, notes, “With so few other construction segments doing well, halting an entire category of federally-funded construction—airport projects—is exceptionally devastating economically for this industry. Tens of thousands of construction workers shouldn't have to suffer because Congress hasn't figured out a way to work out its differences.”
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) says that it is critical that the House and Senate leadership work out their differences in the next few weeks so that a multi-year FAA reauthorization bill can be sent to the president. He warned: “If the Senate refuses to negotiate on the few remaining issues, they can be assured that every tool at our disposal will be utilized to ensure a long-term bill is signed into law.