- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 4, 2011

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday said a “bipartisan compromise” has been reached to end for now a partial shutdown of U.S. aviation programs that has affected tens of thousands of workers and has cost the federal government millions of dollars in uncollected airline taxes.

The announcement seemingly ends a political game of chicken that led to Democrats and Republicans angrily blaming one another for a stalemate that has halted airport-runway and air-traffic control tower construction projects across the country.

Mr. Reid agreed to accept a Republican-crafted House bill that would temporarily fund the Federal Aviation Administration through mid-September. Under terms of a deal struck between the Nevada Democrat and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, transportation and congressional officials say, the secretary would be allowed to use his authority to waive provisions in the bill opposed by Democrats [-] namely, cuts affecting rural airports and a provision Democrats said was anti-union.

“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,” said Mr. Reid in a prepared statement released by his office.

“This 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.”

Mr. LaHood called it a “tremendous victory for American workers everywhere.”

President Obama, who had been pressing congressional leaders to settle the impasse, also said he was “pleased” with the news. “We can’t afford to let politics in Washington hamper our recovery, so this is an important step forward,” he said in a statement.

Most Republican leaders on Capitol Hill publicly were silent about the pending end to the stalemate. Privately they took exception to Mr. Reid’s characterization of the deal as “bipartisan,” saying it was brokered without Republican input.

But Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, the senior Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, called Mr. Reid’s announcement “welcome news.”

“I look forward to the FAA once again resuming regular operations, which will benefit travelers, airports, affected businesses and most importantly allow furloughed FAA employees to get back to work,” she said in a statement.

Despite Congress being away on its summer break, the Senate is expected to pass the measure Friday using a fast-track procedure during a “pro forma” session that won’t require most senators to return to Washington. With Mr. Obama’s prompt approval expected, the nonessential workers could be back on the job Monday.

Since 2007, Congress has passed 20 temporary funding extensions 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.

Because Congress failed to pass another funding extension by a July 23 deadline, the FAA has issued stop-work orders for more than 200 airport construction projects nationwide. The move has affected at least 70,000 construction-related jobs, while furloughing almost 4,000 agency employees.

The shutdown also has prevented the FAA from collecting about $30 million a day in certain airline ticket fees.

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

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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