US Transportation Chief Calls for Congress to Resolve FAA Funding Dispute

Posted August 3rd, 2011 at 1:50 pm (UTC-5)
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The U.S. transportation chief is calling on Congress to return from its summer recess and end a partial shutdown of the agency that oversees the nation's airlines and air safety.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Wednesday that the 12-day-old shutdown because of a dispute over funding for the Federal Aviation Administration has halted $11 billion worth of airport expansion projects. With funding stopped, he said 70,000 construction workers have been laid off, and 4,000 government workers have been furloughed.

LaHood said lawmakers could have resolved the stalemate before leaving Washington this week on a five-week break, but that “instead they went on vacation.” LaHood said speeches by congressional Republicans calling for more job creation during the nation's sluggish economic recovery “ring very hollow” in the wake of the layoffs caused by the funding impasse. In addition, he said the dispute could cost the government more than $1 billion in lost taxes on airline tickets.

White House spokesman Jay Carney called the funding lapse “inexcusable.”

LaHood said, however, that the deadlock over the agency's funding will not compromise the safety of airline passengers because air traffic controllers remain on the job.

The furloughed government employees work in research and support roles. Some airport safety inspectors have continued to work without pay and have been told to charge their government travel expenses to their personal credit cards.

The congressional fight about funding centers on a demand by conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives that $14 million in subsidies to 16 rural airports be ended, a provision Democrats in the Senate oppose.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, urged the speaker of the House of Representatives, Republican John Boehner, to allow a quick renewal of short-term funding during the congressional recess, leaving the more contentious provisions of the agency's funding to be decided when Congress returns next month.

The partial shutdown, which started July 23, is blocking the government from collecting taxes on airline tickets, often about $25 on a $300 round-trip flight. That could cost the government $1.2 billion in lost revenue if the issue is not settled until September when lawmakers are scheduled to return to work.

Most airline passengers are not benefiting from the elimination of the ticket tax. Rather than passing on the savings to the flying public, some major U.S. airlines have raised their fares to offset the elimination of the tax.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday called the stalemate over the agency's funding “another Washington-inflicted wound on America.”