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LaHood Called on Senate to Pass House Bill

Ray LaHood
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood during his visit to AirVenture 2010.

August 3, 2011 – In a last-ditch effort to restore FAA funding before Congress’s August recess, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood urged the Senate to pass the House’s continuing resolution for the FAA and put 4,000 furloughed employees and more than 70,000 construction workers back to work.

“Don’t go home on vacation until you put these people back to work,” LaHood said in a telephone press conference Tuesday afternoon. With the House already in recess. the only way to avoid extending the furlough of 4,000 employees and a work stoppage of more than 200 FAA-funded airport construction projects idling more than 70,000 workers was for the Senate to pass H.R. 2553.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was willing to accept H.R. 2553 - the 21st continuing resolution that would maintain current FAA funding levels through September 16, 2011 - but the deal reportedly fell through Tuesday afternoon.

LaHood insisted that air traffic control and other safety-critical functions would continue, and that safety would absolutely not be compromised for the flying public. “Safety is the number one priority,” he said. “I will say it definitively; no safety issue will be compromised.”

The House bill includes cuts in subsidies for rural air service opposed by some Democrats.

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt, also participating in the conference, called the funding extension “really important – the longer it goes, the more potential harm it will cause to the aviation system.” He also noted that electronic payments to airports would end this week, and a number of employees, including inspectors, were working for no pay and using personal credit cards for expenses.

“That’s outrageous,” Babbitt said. “But that shows their dedication and professionalism.”

The FAA’s operating authority expired on July 23, as well as the authority of airlines to collect about $30 million a day in ticket taxes, meaning the government will be unable to collect an estimated $1.2 billion in taxes if the shutdown continues until lawmakers return to work next month.

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