President Barack Obama signed legislation Friday temporarily restoring full funding to the Federal Aviation Administration, breaking a political impasse and allowing roughly 4,000 furloughed federal employees to return to work.
The measure also promises to restore tens of thousands of jobs in the construction industry and elsewhere tied to airport improvement projects put on hold as a result of the funding shortfall.
The bill took less than one minute to pass a nearly empty Senate chamber Friday morning. It was cleared with a legislative maneuver known as "unanimous consent," which allows as few as two senators to approve a bill so long as no objections are filed. Most members of Congress are currently away from Washington on their summer recess.The president hailed the agreement, noting that it removed "the uncertainty hanging over the jobs of thousands of hardworking FAA employees."
"This impasse was an unnecessary strain on local economies across the country at a time when we can't allow politics to get in the way of our economic recovery," Obama said Friday. "I'm glad that this stalemate has finally been resolved."
The political differences that led to the funding shortfall, however, have not been resolved. Democrats and Republicans are still at sharp odds over whether to continue providing subsidies to smaller rural airports. The two parties also differ over whether to make it easier for airline employees to unionize.
Congress will have to revisit the issue within six weeks to avoid another lapse in funding. Outrage over Congress's decision to adjourn for the summer without providing adequate funding for the approximately 4,000 employees contributed to the push for at least a short-term resolution. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood repeatedly took to the airwaves over the past several days, cajoling lawmakers to come back from their break and reach an agreement.
For workers facing the possibility of lost wages for weeks to come, news of the breakthrough evoked an emotional response. Evelyn Martinez, an FAA inspector, cried when she learned of the deal. The tears are "out of relief," Martinez said, adding that while her post-graduate education taught her how government works, "what we are experiencing is outside of any textbook."