WASHINGTON -- House and Senate exchanged blame Monday for the legislative stalemate that precipitated a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration while making no overture to resolve the dispute to restore the agency to full operation.
The FAA's operating authority expired at midnight Friday, forcing a partial shutdown of the agency. Dozens of airport construction projects across the country have been put on hold and thousands of federal employees were out of work.
Air traffic controllers have continued to work, as well as FAA employees who inspect the safety of planes and test pilots. Transportation officials have said safety won't be compromised. But it was unclear how long the FAA can continue day-to-day operations before travelers begin to feel the effects of the shutdown.
At the Tri-Cities Airport, construction will continue on two projects funded by the federal airport improvement program, the main grant program airports use to help pay for improvement projects, said Airport Director Ron Foraker.
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Foraker said the Port of Pasco submitted the reimbursement request for the $123,000 grant helping to improve Argent Road between 20th and Stearman avenues before the shut down went into effect.
The project includes adding curbs, a sidewalk and two bicycle lanes to the road, he said.
And Foraker said he hopes the federal funding will be ironed out before the first bills are due on another airport improvement program project. Construction will start Monday on improving a portion of taxiway and 3,700 feet of runway 12. The more than $3 million project includes adding a perforated plastic pipe water collection system to the runway.
The Tri-Cities Airport is supposed to receive about $1.9 million from the federal program, Foraker said. The rest of the money is coming from the passenger facility charges.
The first bill will be due in about 30 days, he said.
Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said there have been no negotiations between the Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate to resolve the dispute.
Republican leaders said they are determined to hold their position that the Senate must accept a House-passed bill to extend the FAA's operating through mid-September even though it contains a provision eliminating $16.5 million in air service subsidies for 13 rural airports that Democrats say is unacceptable.
"This is sort of sad, you know," Mica told reporters. "On the eve of the country's finances near collapse, it's sort of symbolic of the whole problem here: No one is willing to eliminate any wasteful programs."
The subsidy program was created after airlines were deregulated in 1978 to ensure continued service on less profitable routes to remote communities. Not all those communities are remote anymore. The GOP provision would end subsidies to communities less than 90 miles from a hub airport or where subsidies average greater than $1,000 per passenger.
Democrats said the real issue is that Republicans are insisting Democrats accept a host of contentious provisions added to a long-term FAA spending bill approved by the House in April. Among their key differences is a GOP proposal sought by industry that would make it more difficult for airline workers to unionize.
The Senate passed its own long-term funding bill in February without the labor provision, which Democrats insist much be dropped. They also accused Republicans of tying the elimination of rural air subsidies to their extension bill as a means to prod Democrats to make concessions on the labor issue.