- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A group of Senate Democrats has urged House Speaker John A. Boehner to begin negotiations on a long-term aviation funding package well ahead of a mid-September deadline in order to avoid another disruption of airport projects.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and five other senior Senate Democrats sent Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, a letter Tuesday asking him to appoint conferees to a bipartisan congressional panel “so that we may resolve our issues and put Americans back to work.”

An impasse between Senate Democrats and House Republicans over a Federal Aviation Administration funding measure last month led to a partial shutdown of airport construction projects nationwide until a temporary deal was reached Thursday. The agreement, which Republicans complained was made between Mr. Reid and the White House without their input, expires Sept. 16.

The House and Senate earlier this year passed separate and different FAA funding authorization bills. The Democrat-controlled Senate four months ago appointed conferees to a bicameral committee set up to broker a compromise between the two versions, while House GOP leaders have yet to do so.

“Action on a final FAA bill is long overdue,” the Senate Democrats said in their letter. “The lack of conferees from the House is the main obstacle standing in the way of Congress’ ability to produce a bipartisan, long-term, extension of the FAA [funding].”

House GOP leaders have refused to send members to the panel because they say Senate Democrats won’t bargain in good faith.

“The main obstacle to completing work on a long-term FAA bill is the unwillingness of Senate Democrats to find consensus on a small host of issues, not the appointment of conferees,” Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith said.

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

The House last month passed yet another short-term FAA funding extension. But Senate Democrats opposed the measure because it included a GOP provision they said would make it more difficult for airline employees to join a union. Democrats also balked at provisions to cut airline subsidies for some rural air service.

When Congress failed to pass another funding extension by a late-July deadline, the FAA issued stop-work orders for more than 200 airport construction projects. The move affected at least 70,000 construction-related jobs and furloughed almost 4,000 agency employees for almost two weeks.

The five other Democratic senators who signed the letter to Mr. Boehner were Max Baucus of Montana, John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, Barbara Boxer of California, Bill Nelson of Florida and Maria Cantwell of Washington state.

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