Reid announces deal to end FAA impasse

This story has been updated.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday a deal has been struck to resolve the protracted dispute between Democrats and Republicans over the Federal Aviation Administration.

"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," Reid said in a statement.

"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."

Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, who has been involved in negotiating an end to the dispute, said Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood will be using his waiver authority to waive provisions affecting rural communities.

The dispute has cost the U.S. government an estimated $200 million a week in uncollected airline and put the agency in a partial shutdown with 4,000 workers furloughed -- 1,000 of them in the greater Washington, D.C. area.

The FAA impasse differs from the spending fights that this year threatened a government shutdown and the risk of a federal default. It involved not a wave of newly elected ideologues in a broad partisan clash, but a policy-based and somewhat personal clash between two idiosyncratic committee chairmen.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., and Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., whose panels have jurisdiction over the FAA, have been in a standoff for months over dueling long term FAA reauthorization bills passed by the House and Senate.

Rockefeller earlier this week said Mica is willing "shut down the FAA" over an ideological issue," and called the dispute "a tragedy that never had to happen" that was ultimately about "bullying."

In a statement Wednesday, Mica said "Senate Democrats have no one to blame but themselves for this partial shutdown."

Congress since the 2007 expiration of the last long-term FAA bill has passed 20 short-term reauthorizations that extend current policy and avoid weighing in on issues that have prevented a deal on a longer term bill. But Mica inserted language cutting funds for rural airports, including in West Virginia and in other states of key Senate Democrats, in the most recent extension passed by the House.

Rockefeller called the move an effort to force him to concede on a fight on a National Mediation Board's rules on organization of airline unions that has blocked a deal on the long-term bill. With no agreement, the House left town Monday night. After Reid appeared try to convince Rockefeller to agree to accept the House stop-gap bill, the Senate followed suit and left town on Tuesday.

After decades as power players on transportation issues, Rockefeller and Mica have a long acquaintance. But the FAA bill marks their first real negotiation. And while the ensuing fight has now been swept up into a broader partisan narrative, neither chairman fits that bill.

Democrats have both portrayed Mica as the culprit of the FAA shutdown and cited his tactics as a new example uncompromising GOP extremism. But House Republicans have fingered Rockefeller and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., as barriers to an extension.

Coburn had refused to allow the Senate to pass a "clean" FAA bill because he sponsored the rural airport cuts and wants to see them enacted. Rockefeller had refused to allow the Senate to pass the House bill because he is offended by the rural airport cuts.

In an unusual move, LaTourette posted pictures of Coburn and Rockefeller at a Thursday press conference in the Capitol, calling them his "two wanted" men. He said he didn't warn the two lawmakers about his actions beforehand. "My information is that these are the guys," he said. Asked why he is standing up now, LaTourette could only say, "I'm pissed. …We've lost more money in ticket taxes than the entire [rural airport subsidies] cost."

Before Reid's announcement, Coburn spokesman John Hart said his boss had agreed to a short-term extension if his amendment on rural airport cuts is included in legislation when Congress returns from its August recess. Aides to Rockefeller were unavailable for comment.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.