Washington Congress has reached a bipartisan compromise to end the two-week partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration that has idled 74,000 federal employees and construction workers and cost the government about $30 million a day in uncollected airline ticket taxes, Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said Thursday.
The deal would allow the Senate to approve a House bill extending the FAA’s operating authority through mid-September, including a provision that eliminates $16.5 million in air service subsidies to 13 rural communities. Passage of the bill is expected today. Senators have scattered for their August recess, but the measure can be approved if leaders from both parties agree to adopt it by “unanimous consent.”
Republicans had insisted on the subsidy cuts as their price for restoring the FAA to full operation. But the cuts may become moot.
The bill includes language that gives Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood the authority to continue subsidized service to the 13 communities if he decides it’s necessary.
“Only LaHood can decide how he will use his waiver authority,” said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Reid.
But Democrats said they expect the administration to effectively waive or negate the cuts.
“I just know that the White House has provided assurances that they (the communities) will be held harmless,” said a Senate Democratic leadership aide who asked not to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the deal.
The shutdown began when much of Washington was transfixed by the stalemate over raising the government’s debt ceiling. During that time, the FAA furloughed 4,000 workers but kept air traffic controllers and most safety inspectors on the job. Forty airport safety inspectors worked without pay, picking up their own travel expenses. Some 70,000 workers on construction-related jobs on airport projects from Palm Springs, Calif., to New York City were idled as the FAA couldn’t pay for the work.
But airline passengers in the busy travel season hardly noticed any changes. Airlines continued to work as normal, but they were no longer authorized to collect federal ticket taxes at a rate of $30 million a day. For a few lucky ticket buyers, prices dropped. But for the vast majority, nothing changed because airlines raised their base prices to match the tax.
Some passengers will now be eligible for tax refunds if they bought their tickets before July 23 and their travel took place during the shutdown.