Sen. Jay Rockefeller

Transportation Nation

Shutdown: Dems Walk Back Decision to Relent on FAA

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

(photo by Tom May/Flickr)

UPDATED WITH RAY LAHOOD: A senior Senate Democratic aide now tells Transportation Nation that the deal is off. Democrats will NOT accept the House GOP's version of a bill temporarily extending the Federal Aviation Administration. The decision means the two-week-old shutdown caused by the standoff is likely to continue.

The statement comes as a surprise when you consider what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said earlier today. Reid said he was prepared to accept the House GOP's bill on the Senate floor today. The move would have sent the bill to the president, and if signed, reopened the FAA.

"Sometimes you have to be reasonable," Reid said.

His position was backed by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who has been waging a p.r. blitz to get Congress to get the FAA fully back in business. LaHood told reporters on an afternoon conference call that he'd talked with Reid "three or four times" today and that Reid had said he "really wanted" the Senate to vote for the House bill. "I have no doubt from talking with him he really wants this to happen," LaHood said of Reid.

But the bill wasn't reasonable to other Democrats, who've railed against the House GOP's tactics in the shutdown fight. The only difference between the House and Senate bills is about $13 million worth of subsidies for some small airports, one of which happens to be in Reid's home state. The Senate has demanded a "clean" extension of the FAA's funding.

Meanwhile, the House members have left town, leaving the Senate to decide: accept the GOP's terms or allow the FAA shutdown and thousands of temporary layoffs to continue.

While decrying the loss of those jobs and the suspension of improvements to the U.S. aviation system, Secretary LaHood insisted flying safety would not be compromised--even if a bill wasn't passed. "Flying is safe," he said. "Air traffic controllers are guiding planes. Our inspectors are on duty, doing their jobs."

FAA inspectors who check planes for air-worthiness are still on the job because they're paid from the operational side of the agency's budget and not the side furnished by airport fees and taxes, which the FAA stopped collecting when it was partially shut down. However, 40 airport safety inspectors are being required to work without pay because their jobs have been deemed critical to "life and property."

In the background there's a larger fight over union organizing rules at airlines and rail companies on a separate, longer-term FAA bill.

"Not over till it's over," said a spokesman for Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Sen Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), moments after Reid said he'd acquiesce to the House's demands.

Rockefeller's office later released a statement blaming the FAA shutdown on Republicans' intransigence on the union issue. Rockefeller says: “Today, Republicans once again objected to a simple, fair request—a ‘clean’ extension of funding that would maintain operations into the fall, allow the FAA to function, and restart bipartisan negotiations, which Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and I have made clear we are ready to do.  From day 1, House GOP leaders admitted openly—almost proudly—that they were doing this to gain ‘leverage’ toward a larger goal—undermining worker rights."

A statement from Reid's office blames the GOP's move for "laying off thousands of air travel workers just because they are not getting their way."

Senate Dems note that the House could conceivably reconvene and pass a "clean" FAA extension if Senate Republicans would only relent and let one through.

The bottom line is this: Two hours after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was ready to break the impasse and reopen the FAA, we're right back where we started: shutdown.

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Transportation Nation

Senate Titans Trade Shots as FAA Shutdown Continues

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The 5-day-old shutdown at the Federal Aviation Administration continued Wednesday, as senators clashed over who’s to blame for the standoff.

FAA went into a partial shutdown at midnight on Friday after the law governing the agency expired. Both the House and Senate have a temporary extension of the law teed up, but a spat over a politically-charged bit of union politics continues to divide Republicans and Democrats while keeping most of FAA dark.

Democrat Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.) and Republican Orrin Hatch (Utah), two of the most senior senators, traded barbs on the Senate floor Wednesday over the shutdown. The legislative dustup amounted to little, as 4,000 employees remain furloughed and billions of dollars in aviation construction projects are stalled.

In the immediate sense, the shutdown was caused when the House and Senate passed slightly different versions of a bill temporarily extending FAA’s authorization. The difference was a tiny House provision restricting small-airport subsidies to airports where carriers get more than a $1,000 federal payment per ticket. That’s a sum-total of three airports nationwide in the Essential Air Service program.

Senators wanted a “clean” temporary extension. But while the gambit from House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica annoyed senators, it has little to do with the actual shutdown. That’s a full-blown fight over union organizing rules in the aviation and rail industries.

A long-term, full FAA authorization bill is stalled in House-Senate negotiations over a partisan disagreement about federal rules governing how workers can vote to unionize. Last year the National Mediation Board altered rules so that only a majority of workers voting would be needed to unionize a shop. Previously unions had to muster a majority of all workers.

On the Senate floor Wednesday, Rockefeller blasted House Republicans for using the temporary authorization bill to gain leverage on the union rules fight in the bigger bill. He repeated his charge that the move was designed to protect non-union Delta Airlines, which is hoping to prevent workers from organizing.

“This is not policy it’s pettiness,” Rockefeller said.

Hatch was on hand to counter, saying that Democrats were defending “a big partisan favor done at the behest of Big Labor.”

Rockefeller and Hatch blocked each other’s attempts to pass the temporary FAA authorization bill through the Senate. The standoff continues.

Catch Rep. John Mica on The Takeaway Thursday morning. He'll be on live to discuss the FAA shutdown and the ongoing congressional fight over the federal debt limit.

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Transportation Nation

Shall We Kick Off The Energy Debate?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in January with Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (at left) (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

(Washington, DC - Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) -- The much-anticipated Senate debate over energy and climate change legislation is getting an early start.

Lawmakers are set to vote today on a GOP-backed resolution stripping the Environmental Protection Agency of its authority to regulate carbon and other ‘greenhouse gasses’. The vote is shaping up as an early test of where lawmakers stand on curbing carbon emissions in advance of a full-blown energy policy debate set for July.

The EPA branded carbon an “endangerment” to human health in December, 2009, clearing the way for the agency to regulate it as a pollutant. That came after a Supreme Court decision ruling the agency had the power to regulate carbon under the Clean Air Act.

But amid mounting global pressure for US action on climate change, the move was widely seen as the Obama Administration’s way to pressure reluctant lawmakers to act on carbon caps or face regulations from the EPA.

Still, Republicans decried EPA’s anti-carbon threatened rule-making as a power-grab.  Today’s vote, if successful and the bill becomes law, would strip EPA of the authority to make new carbon-control rules.

“The EPA intends to take control of climate policy.  Take it away from the Congress,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the resolution’s main sponsor. “This resolution is about protecting the economy and preventing agency overreach. It’s as simple as that,” she said.

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