The US Senate failed in a last-minute bid on Tuesday to end a partial shutdown of federal aviation projects that has halted airport construction and thrown tens of thousands of people out of work.
Senators scrambled to find common ground with the House of Representatives on a bill to temporarily fund the Federal Aviation Administration but neither side would budge before adjourning until September. Acrimonious disagreement over proposed cuts to rural air service and underlying discord over a labour issue was reminiscent of the gridlock surrounding a just-completed 11th-hour deal to raise the US government’s debt ceiling.
“I am deeply disappointed that bipartisanship has failed us here,” said New Hampshire Senator Jean Shaheen, adding a runway project in her state will likely be delayed until the spring. While the scale of disruption from an FAA shutdown paled in comparison to the global repercussions of a potential US debt default, the aviation fallout was not trivial and may carry political consequences if not resolved soon. The FAA has issued stop work orders for 241 airport construction projects worth nearly USD$ 11 billion, officials said.
“We have the best aviation system in the world,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. “This is no way to run it.”
LaHood said FAA air traffic operations were not affected and aircraft safety programmes remain in place. The Obama administration estimates the shutdown has thrown more than 70,000 people out of work since July 22 when the FAA’s latest temporary funding authorisation expired. Many are in construction-related jobs, a sector where unemployment tops 15 percent. Starting on Thursday, those workers may begin showing up in a federal report of people claiming unemployment benefits.