FAA Open for Business, but Another Shutdown Possible

Congress remains deadlocked over union rules.

FAA Big

FAA Big

The FAA is back up and running at full speed after President Barack Obama signed into law a stopgap measure ending a two-week shutdown that halted airport construction projects and tax payments by airlines and furloughed thousands of agency employees.

Now the FAA is back at square one as Congress prepares to renew a contentious political battle over long-term funding for the agency, which has been operating under a series of nearly two dozen temporary extensions.

It will come as a surprise to nobody who has followed Washington politics this year that both sides of the debate are blaming each other for the shutdown, while also making little progress on the issues that are preventing passage of FAA reauthorization legislation.

In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and several other Democrats urged Republicans and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) to restart funding negotiations in the Senate. "Public statements from you and Chairman John Mica say that you are 'willing to use every tool at your disposal' to negotiate a final FAA bill, yet one tool you have so far been unwilling to use is the normal legislative process," they wrote.

Mica fired back at Democrats, blaming them for the impasse and saying another shutdown could occur if Democrats don’t accept House provisions.

“The American people have witnessed firsthand during this minor difference of opinion — blown up into a crisis by Senate Democrats — how truly difficult it is to bring about even modest reforms and cut wasteful programs in Washington,” Mica said.

About 4,000 FAA workers were furloughed when the agency was partially shut down because of the rift between Republicans in the House and Democrats in the Senate over a short-term funding bill.

Negotiations on a larger bill stalled after the House added a provision to eliminate labor rules that make it easier for airline employees to unionize. President Obama has threatened to veto any FAA funding bill that overturns the union protections.

The next date to watch is Sept. 23, when the latest short-term funding extension expires. Congress can choose to pass a long-term bill, issue another extension, or again cut off funding, leading to a second FAA shutdown.