White House rejects FAA privatization deal

The Bush administration has reportedly rejected a tentative deal between Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and Senate Commerce Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Trent Lott, R-Miss., to complete work on the four-year, $60 billion FAA reauthorization bill by imposing a one-year moratorium on the privatization of air traffic control towers, Senate aides and lobbyists said.

Senate Democratic aides reacted angrily to the White House decision to reject the deal, charging it clearly shows the administration is set on privatizing the system despite claims by FAA Administrator Marion Blakey and other officials that they are not motivated by such an agenda.

"We just think that it shows ... they're hell bent on farming out the air traffic control [system] to the private sector," a Democratic aide said.

The deal would have broken the months-long deadlock between the two veteran lawmakers that has stalled completion of the FAA bill, and sets up another floor showdown next week with the current extension of the existing law set to expire next Friday.

Lautenberg and House Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member James Oberstar, D-Minn., have led opposition to the FAA conference bill because it did not include language passed by both chambers that would have prohibited privatization of the air traffic control system. The lawmakers successfully forced GOP conferees to reopen the conference late last month, and although Republicans were able to push the new conference report -- which included neither the administration-backed authorizing language nor the Democrats' prohibition -- through the chamber, it has again become stuck with Lautenberg threatening a filibuster.

Lautenberg Wednesday said he still has more than enough votes to maintain a filibuster of the conference report, despite efforts by Lott and industry officials to chip away at his support. Senate aides said Lautenberg has not discussed timing of a floor debate with Lott, but the Democrat has indicated he will continue to block the bill if his concerns are not addressed.