The U.S. House passed a short-term extension for the Federal Aviation Administration that ensures a showdown with the Senate over provisions to cut funding for the Essential Air Service program.
The bill advanced on a largely party-line vote of 243-177, with 171 Democrats voting against it. It would keep the FAA operating beyond Friday until Sept. 16, averting the need to furlough about 4,000 workers. Air traffic controllers, who make up about three-fourths of the agency’s workforce, would be exempt because they are considered essential employees.
The bill would restrict eligibility for subsidies for flights to small airports, cutting $16.6 million to 13 sites. Ten airports would lose service under the bill’s restrictions on subsidizing locations less than 90 miles from a hub airport. Another three would be cut from the program under the bill’s per-passenger subsidy limits, according to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Airports that would lose subsidies are in Ely, Nevada; Alamogordo/Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico; Glendive, Montana; Athens, Georgia; Hagerstown, Maryland; Jackson, Tennessee; Jamestown, New York; Jonesboro, Arkansas; Morgantown, West Virginia; and four Pennsylvania towns: Bradford, Franklin/Oil City, Johnstown and Lancaster.
The cuts are “badly needed,” said Republican Tom Petri of Wisconsin. The provisions are a “small effort to reform” what has become an “accumulation of earmarks” over the years, he said.
“Some changes may need to be made to the Essential Air Service program,” but that debate should be reserved for another time, said Jerry Costello of Illinois, the top Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s aviation panel.
The White House prefers a plain extension with no policy provisions while stopping short of a veto threat. The bill “includes controversial provisions that, because they have not been negotiated, needlessly threaten critical FAA programs and jeopardize thousands of public and private sector jobs,” the administration said in its official policy statement.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, has said he wants a “clean” extension with no additional provisions. The House bill is “unclean and shows a lack of good faith for the House to spring it on the Senate after months of bipartisan conversations about finding a compromise,” said Vince Morris, a committee spokesman.
John Mica, chairman of the House transportation committee, said the language he added shouldn’t pose a problem because it is similar to a provision in a Senate-passed bill. “We took their language on EAS,” the Florida Republican said in an interview. “The only thing that was added would affect three airports which are subsidized more than $1,000 a flight.”
The FAA’s last multiyear authorization expired in 2007. Since then, Congress has approved 20 extensions.