- The Washington Times - Friday, August 5, 2011

The Senate on Friday moved to end a furlough of thousands of Federal Aviation Administration employees, using an abbreviated session of Congress to pass a stopgap bill that sends them back to work.

After a week of House-Senate sparring on Capitol Hill, the Senate reversed itself and passed the bill it blocked just three days ago — but only after Senate Democratic leaders secured an agreement from the Obama administration to waive contentious parts of the new bill.

And the reprieve only lasts through September, when both the House and Senate must hash out a longer-term FAA bill.

“The hard-working men and women affected by this standoff should never have been furloughed in the first place,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “They were out of work for two weeks because Republicans were holding their jobs hostage to try and jam through a favor for the CEO of one airline.”

But Republicans said the fight was over continued taxpayer subsidies for airports in rural communities, including in Mr. Reid’s own Nevada. And they said the standoff could have been ended sooner if Mr. Reid had accepted the House bill earlier this week, rather than wait until Friday to pass it.

“I am pleased the Senate has approved the House-passed FAA extension bill,” House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said. “Moving forward, it’s time for Senate Democrats to get serious about resolving the remaining FAA issues, complete work on a long-term bill that can be signed into law, and help this troubled economy.”

The Senate convened Friday morning in a pro forma session, which allows business to be transacted without all of the members having to return to Washington. During the session, the few members in the chamber passed the House’s short-term extension of FAA programs, sending it on to the White House for President Obama’s signature.

The House bill strips the subsidies for those rural airports, but it also gives the administration the power to waive its action. Mr. Reid said the Obama administration has assured him it will do so.

During the standoff the government was losing hundreds of millions of dollars a week in revenue from airlines, and had to furlough tens of thousands of employees or force others to work without pay, at least temporarily.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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