WASHINGTON — The House moved Wednesday toward a showdown with the Senate that could result in a shutdown of portions of the Federal Aviation Administration and the furlough of about 4,000 workers.
A Republican-sponsored bill to extend FAA operating authority through Sept. 16 was approved Wednesday by the House by a 243-177 vote mostly along party lines. Senate Democrats have warned that the House bill is unacceptable because Republicans added a provision eliminating about $8.5 million in subsidies for airline service to 13 rural communities in 10 states. The White House also issued a statement calling on the House to drop the subsidies provision.
The FAA's current authority expires at midnight Friday. Most immediately affected by a shutdown would be FAA programs paid for with airline ticket taxes. Airlines would have to stop collecting federal ticket taxes, although they would continue to collect airport fees.
Air traffic controllers, deemed essential safety personnel, would stay on the job. But airport construction grants and FAA's implementation of a new air traffic control system based on GPS technology would halt.
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At the root of the quarrel is a dispute over union organizing by airline and railroad workers.
Congress has been trying to pass a long-term FAA funding bill since 2007, when the last long-term bill expired. The Senate approved a long-term funding bill in February.
The House approved its version in April. But the House bill contains a GOP-sponsored provision that would overturn a National Mediation Board rule approved last year that allows airline and railroad 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.
Negotiations between the House and Senate on a long-term FAA funding bill are at an impasse over the labor provision and a handful of other issues, making a temporary extension of FAA's operating authority necessary.
Congressional passage of 20 previous short-term extensions was routine. If enacted, the House bill would be the 21st extension. Senators introduced their own short-term extension bill on Wednesday without the airline subsidies provision, but it was unclear if they would have time under Senate rules to pass it before Friday night.
Democrats say they won't let a bill pass the Senate with the subsidies provision, which they described as a symbolic gesture aimed at trying to force them to negotiate with the House on the labor issue.