House and Senate leaders have reached agreement on a long-awaited bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration with Republicans backing down on a controversial labor provision that had drawn a veto threat from the White House. The deal paves the way for finalization of an FAA bill that has been years in the making. Lawmakers were facing a Jan. 31 deadline when the current extension would expire.
Republican leaders agreed to remove the offending language in the FAA bill that would have rescinded an Obama administration rule by the National Mediation Board that makes it easier for rail and aviation workers to unionize. The remaining disputes between Republicans and Democrats on the measure have been worked out in a gentleman's agreement among the congressional transportation gurus.
In exchange, Democrats have agreed to include a provision that would raise the threshold for rail and aviation workers expressing interest in forming a union from 35 percent to 50 percent.
Lawmakers still must draft a bill that both chambers can vote on, but that task is easily manageable over the next week and a half, congressional aides said.
Lawmakers also have agreed to public hearings for some NMB actions.
No one wanted to pass another short-term extension of the FAA. It would have been Number 23. But it wasn't clear until the Republican retreat in Baltimore this weekend that the House GOP was willing to drop the labor provision. They consider the Obama administration rule, which says nonvoting workers cannot count as "no" votes in elections to form unions, to be an overreach of power to its union constituency. Supporters of the rule say it simply puts rail and aviation union elections in line with all other elections, including unionization votes governed by the National Labor Relations Board and elections for members of Congress.
Dan Friedman contributed to this report.