House Republicans are mulling another funding extension for the Federal Aviation Administration, this time to Dec. 31, that also includes back pay for federal workers who were furloughed for two weeks in August when lawmakers failed to extend the agency’s funding.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., had planned to introduce the bill on Friday, but last-minute discussions over its provisions delayed the introduction. Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said that the House will pass an extension next week, but he didn't offer further details.
The measure under discussion would include minor cuts to the funding levels of FAA, consistent with agreed-upon deficit-reduction agreements and House appropriators’ funding levels. (Democrats oppose the House's funding levels for FAA.) The overall funding levels in the FAA stopgap would reflect roughly a 5 percent reduction, which is causing some concern in the aviation community. Even before the extension was finalized, President Greg Principato of Airports Council International-North America issued a statement saying that a 5 percent cut to the airport-improvement program, which has been flat-funded since 2006, would cost jobs and raise airline ticket prices.
Although still in draft form, the FAA extension appears to be far less incendiary than the last bill introduced by Mica. That effort angered the Senate because it included provisions to cut subsidies to rural airports. Mica admits he included the policy language as leverage to force the House and Senate to begin hammering out their differences on a longer-term FAA bill. The battle that ensued wound up making all of Congress look bad when the standoff forced a partial shutdown; federal workers were furloughed and the Treasury lost some $400 million in tax receipts from airline ticket sales.
This time (the extension would be No. 22), Mica is trying to make amends to the furloughed workers by including a bill sponsored by Rep. Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., to make those workers whole. The current extension expires on Sept. 16. All parties involved in the debate agree that they want to avert another shutdown, although Mica told National Journal that he could only influence the House debate. "Can I guarantee what the Senate will do? No," he said.
Early indications are that the measure could pass the Senate without too much difficulty. Senate aides said they are waiting to see a final version of the bill before issuing any public statements about it.
This article appears in the September 9, 2011 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.