It’s not just a shutdown — Congress has no plan for the FAA either


If Congress can’t act to head off a shutdown and FAA lapse by Sunday, most air traffic controllers will continue working without pay, but some 2,600 controllers in training — including 1,000 that are already working in FAA centers nationwide — will be forced to go home, putting significant strain on an already stressed system. Grant money for important safety improvements will stop and some regulations in process, such as ones intended to shore up passenger protections, will grind to a halt. And the country’s aviation system will lose an estimated $54 million a day in fuel and fare tax revenues.

“At this point, there isn’t a specific plan for [FAA], because there’s so many areas that are important that need to be extended as well,” Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.), a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in an interview.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) said discussions about passing any standalone bills in the House, such as one that would extend the FAA’s expiring authorities, are “frozen.” Donalds insisted that the Senate should abandon its attempt to pass a short-term government funding bill.

“What the Senate should be doing is passing our FAA bill, not stripping it to pass a [continuing resolution] that’s dead here in the House,” Donalds said. “If you had that good faith, even with the Senate, you could figure out a single-issue situation dealing with air traffic control and FAA.”

There is bipartisan support in both chambers for sparing the FAA the brunt of a lapse. But how to get that result while also threading the needle of the fractious House Republican conference, portions of which are spoiling for a shutdown, has remained elusive. Meanwhile, the FAA is estimating that travel will reach its peak for the year heading into Indigenous People’s Day weekend, which will begin in a week.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a vocal critic of McCarthy who has vowed not to vote for any short-term spending bills, said he supports voting on standalone authorization bills like the FAA but that the crush of looming deadlines is designed to get members to fall in line.

“The fact that we’re backed up against shutdown politics is not a bug of the system, it’s a feature of the system,” Gaetz said. “The leadership does this on purpose so they centralize power and the lobbyists and special interests that make the biggest donations get the biggest say in the policy we’re working on.”

The FAA’s authorization aside, the House and Senate remain far apart on a path to keep the federal government open. McCarthy has vowed to try to pass an amended version of a continuing resolution — with additional border security language incorporated — but faces a bloc of hard-right conservatives rigidly against any short-term government funding patch.

House Transportation Committee Chair Sam Graves (R-Mo.) said he was “not sure” what path the House would take regarding a potential standalone FAA extension – including one he introduced, H.R. 5711 (118), on Tuesday. Graves, like many House Republicans, does not want the FAA’s authorization to lapse.

Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), a senior member of the committee close to McCarthy, said he was not aware of a backup plan to advance an FAA reauthorization.

That’s the sense of half a dozen senior Republicans on the Transportation Committee, many of whom blamed the Senate for the possible lapse. They point out that their chamber passed a five-year FAA authorization in late July, while the Senate has yet to act on its own version.

“I’m concerned about [a lapse] but again, it’s out of our control over here. It’s in the Senate,” Westerman said in an interview.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is advancing a bill that would extend both government funding and the FAA’s expiring authorization, legislation that House Republican leadership says won’t pass the House.

The House and Senate now have dueling plans to potentially avert a FAA lapse. The Senate attached a three-month FAA extension to its continuing resolution that would fund the federal government through Nov. 17. The House has its own three-month extension that Graves introduced on Tuesday.

But there’s currently no path to either of them becoming law in time to avert a lapse, given House Republicans’ opposition to the Senate’s stopgap government funding bill.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), the top Democrat on the House’s Aviation Subcommittee, wasn’t optimistic.

“I think we’re going to have a shutdown,” he said during a conference held by the Regional Airline Association on Wednesday.


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