A quick fix to the Federal Aviation Administration's partial shutdown this week appears unlikely unless the Senate is prepared to agree unanimously to a six-week stopgap bill that was passed by the House a few weeks ago. And that probably won't happen.
House Speaker John Boehner has refused to ask House members to sign off remotely on a "clean" FAA extension that is being advocated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., suggested on Tuesday that both chambers could pass a clean FAA stopgap by Friday under "unanimous consent."
"The only way to get a bill to the president's desk is for the Senate Democrats to pass the House bill by [unanimous consent]," Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steel, said on Wednesday.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said on Wednesday that Boehner's office had made it clear that a clean FAA bill was out of the question.
Rockefeller's plan for both the House and Senate to pass a different FAA extension is technically plausible, but it is a difficult path. Even if Boehner did seek agreement from all members in the House for a clean FAA bill, there is no guarantee he would get it. That goes for the Senate as well.
Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have objected to various stopgap funding measures for the FAA. As of Tuesday night, Senate Republicans appeared willing to accept the House-passed bill even though it trims money for some rural airports, although a formal whip count hadn't been taken.
Reid also said he would accept the House bill, even though it cut funding for an airport in his state. The proposal was blocked in the end by a handful of unidentified senators.
The mood isn't very cordial on Capitol Hill anyway, and Democrats in both chambers cried foul over the dilemma that Reid faced after the House adjourned on Monday--to pass a bill that no Democrat likes or let 4,000 FAA workers remain on furlough and halt some 200 construction projects employing 70,000 people. Words such as "unconscionable" and "indefensible" were being thrown around.
Rockefeller has been the most strenuous of the objectors to the House version of the FAA stopgap, saying that the chamber's members have not negotiated in good faith on a broader bill to authorize the agency's funding for several years. It was clear that the talks were over on Tuesday evening when he issued a scathing statement blaming Republicans for refusing to allow a "clean" stopgap to clear the Senate.
On Wednesday, Boehner's office issued a strikingly similar statement saying that Democrats had chosen to play politics with the issue by refusing to pass the House bill.