Veto of GOP-drafted aviation bill is threatened

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House warned House Republicans on Wednesday that a bill to provide long-term authority for aviation programs faces a possible veto if lawmakers persist in proposed funding cuts or include a provision strongly opposed by labor unions.

The bill, which would reduce Federal Aviation Administration funding about $4 billion through 2014, is tentatively scheduled to be debated on the House floor on Thursday.

If approved, the funding reductions come at time when the agency had anticipated a larger, not smaller, budget. FAA is ramping up its program to move from an air traffic control system based on World War II radar technology to one based on GPS technology.

The program is expected to cost the government as much as $20 billion over the next decade and industry another $22 billion. Much of the rest of the world is either using satellite-based air navigation and air traffic control or is in the process of upgrading to GPS technology.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt has already warned lawmakers that he won’t make cuts in areas critical to safety. That means implementation of a new air traffic system could be delayed.

“If funding were appropriated at the levels proposed in the bill, the safe and efficient movement of air traffic in the air and on the ground would be degraded — today and in the future,” the White House said in a statement.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which drafted the bill, was almost apologetic about the measure’s funding levels in comments to an aviation industry luncheon on Wednesday.

The bill’s funding cuts are “within the bounds of what I have to achieve to have it pass on the floor,” Mica said.

Alluding to the determination of House Republican to cut federal spending, Mica said: “I venture to say even a Mother’s Day resolution that had appropriations tied to it would be defeated.”

The bill also contains a provision that would overturn a new rule that makes it easier for unions to organize airline and railroad workers. The rule, approved last year by the National Mediation Board, allows employees to form a union by a simple majority of those voting. Under the old rule, workers who didn’t vote were treated as “no” votes.

Republicans complain that the new rule reverses 75 years of precedent to favor labor unions. Democrats and union officials say the change puts airline and railroad elections under the same democratic rules required for unionizing all other companies.

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Associated Press writer Sam Hananel contributed to this report.

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