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Deal to avert transportation shutdown reached

Deal to avert transportation shutdown reached

September 9th, 2011 in News

WASHINGTON (AP) - House and Senate leaders have reached a deal that averts a looming shutdown of federal highway and aviation programs, a key GOP lawmaker said Friday.

The agreement clears the way for passage next week of a single bill that extends operating authority for the Federal Aviation Administration through the end of January and highway and transit assistance programs through the end of March, Rep. John Mica of Florida, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee said in an interview.

Republicans have agreed not to include any spending cuts or contentious policy provisions in the bill, Mica said.

In exchange, Senate Democrats have made concessions involving some of the more difficult issues that been holding up passage of a long-term funding bill for the FAA, Mica said. He declined to elaborate on what those concessions entail.

"This wouldn't be done if there weren't terms that satisfied both sides," Mica said. "It's a positive step."

Republicans plan to bring a bipartisan bill extending both programs to the House floor for a vote on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, a House GOP leadership said. The aide, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly, asked not to be named.

The last long-term FAA funding bill expired in 2007. The agency has been limping along since then under a series of 21 short-term extensions because the House and Senate have been unable to reach agreement on half dozen or so contentious issues.

The FAA was forced to partially shut down for two weeks this summer because Senate Democrats balked at passing a short-term extension bill. House Republicans had added a provision to the bill eliminating air service subsidies for 13 rural communities. Democrats said they didn't want to set a precedent allowing the House steamroll policy changes that hadn't been negotiated with the Senate by attaching them to a must-pass bill.

Mica acknowledged at the time that he had attached the spending cuts in part to get Senate Democrats to negotiate a deal on a GOP provision in the long-term bill that would make it more difficult for airline workers to unionize.

The standoff forced FAA to furlough nearly 4,000 employees and issue stop-work orders on more than 200 airport construction projects, putting tens of thousands of construction workers out of work. More than $350 million airline ticket taxes went uncollected.

Eventually Senate Democrats gave way and passed the House bill, but the episode raised concern that a similar impasse could occur this month involving not just the FAA, but highway and transit programs as well.

The current short-term FAA extension expires on Sept. 16. Highway and transit programs are in a similar situation. The last long-term transportation bill expired in 2009. The programs have continued to operate under seven short-term extensions, but the most recent extension is due to expire on Sept. 30.

The main issue holding up a long-term transportation bill is money. Revenue from the federal gas and diesel taxes that fund the program are declining, but lawmakers have been reluctant to either raise taxes or cut spending.

Mica said he initially planned to introduce a short-term extension bill on Friday that would have cut FAA's budget by 5 percent and rural air service subsidies by 25 percent.

However, when he circulated a draft of the bill, it prodded House and Senate leaders to open discussions that led to the deal to pass a single transportation extension bill next week, he said.