- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2011

With the contentious debt-ceiling debate finally resolved, Congress has left town for its summer break with some key business unfinished.

Foremost among the pending issues is a failure by Congress to pass an aviation funding measure that has disrupted thousands of jobs and forfeited millions of dollars uncollected fees.

Lawmakers also began their break without resolving long-standing measures regarding the military conflict in Libya, patent reforms and highway funding, among others.

Because Congress failed to pass a Federal Aviation Authority funding bill by a July 23 deadline, airport construction programs — including those involving runways and air traffic control towers — have been halted across the country, effecting at least 70,000 construction workers while furloughing about 4,000 agency employees.

The shutdown also has prevented the FAA from collecting $30 million a day in certain airline ticket fees — a number that would exceed $1 billion by the time Congress is scheduled to return to Washington in early September.

With airport runway construction projects halted, progress also has stalled on an approaching deadline for certifying airports to handle Boeing’s new 747-8 freighter, the largest jumbo jet ever built by the company.

Since 2007, Congress has passed 20 temporary funding extension to keep the FAA running, as disputes over spending, labor rules, safety issues and cross-country airline routes have held up a long-term deal.

The House and Senate passed separate FAA funding authorization bills earlier this year, though the two chambers have been unable to reach a compromise on a combined version.

The Republican-run House last month passed a proposal yet another short-term funding extension. But Democrats who control the Senate opposed the measure because it included provisions to cut certain airline subsidies for rural air service. Democrats also balked over a GOP provision that would make it more difficult for some aviation-related employees to join a union.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, called the House’s action “a stunning display of politics over people” that “has brought about a terrible stalemate that is hurting the economy.”

“From day one, House GOP leaders admitted openly — almost proudly — that they were doing this [bill] to gain ‘leverage’ toward a larger goal — undermining worker rights,” the West Virginia Democrat said.

But House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica, Florida Republican, defended the House’s proposal, saying it would eliminate “exorbitant” federal subsides of more than $1,000 per airline ticket at three small airports.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, said “exhaustion” over the ongoing debt-limit debate — which finally was resolved Tuesday when President Obama signed into law a hard-fought compromise — was partially to blame Congress‘ failure to fund the FAA. But he added it was an “abdication of responsibility” for lawmakers to leave town before a new FAA deal was in place.

Meanwhile, Congress is still debating how to respond to the administration’s military effort in Libya. Two competing House measures in June failed to give President Obama differing levels of authority to continue the war in Libya. But many lawmakers in both chambers have pushed for a resolution on the matter.

Also pending in the Senate is a proposal to update the nation’s patent laws, which haven’t changed in decades. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, in one of his final acts before adjourning the chamber Tuesday evening for its summer break, evoked a procedural “cloture” motion designed to limit debate on the patent measure that sets a path for a possible final vote next month.

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