WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced Thursday that lawmakers have reached a deal to end the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, which has left tens of thousands of workers without paychecks for nearly two weeks.
"I am pleased to announce that we have been able to broker a bipartisan compromise between the House and the Senate to put 74,000 transportation and construction workers back to work," Reid said in a statement.
"This agreement does not resolve the important differences that still remain. But I believe we should keep Americans working while Congress settles its differences, and this agreement will do exactly that."
Lawmakers essentially agreed to a clean reauthorization of FAA funding, which is what Democrats have been pushing for. But the deal only extends through mid-September, which means the handful of GOP provisions that have stalled progress on a longer-term reauthorization will be on the front burner when Congress returns next month.
The deal also requires certain communities to jump through hoops to keep receiving federal subsidies for their rural airports.
In a nutshell: the Senate is expected to move on Friday to take up and pass a bill that has already been passed by the House, which includes language to strip $16.5 million in subsidies to rural airports. The GOP language, strongly opposed by Democrats, specifies that rural airports may only continue to receive subsidies if people in the local community have to drive a minimum of 90 miles to get there. As a solution, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is expected to lean on his authority to waive those provisions.
"Basically, under the law, the Secretary has the authority to grant a waiver to any individual community," explained an administration official. "There is no list of airports, no blanket waiver... but the Secretary can work with individual communities to evaluate, on a case-by-case basis, and make a decision."
The catch, however, is that the more than a dozen communities affected must apply for a waiver if they want to keep their subsidies.
Since the Senate is just voting on the House-passed bill, no additional action will be required by the House, which means that chamber doesn't need to come back into session.
"We expect ... there will be no opposition," said a Senate Democratic aide of Friday's vote, scheduled for 10 a.m. "It could be over in a few minutes."
"This is a tremendous victory for American workers everywhere," LaHood said in a statement.
President Barack Obama also praised Hill leaders for reaching a compromise.
"I'm pleased that leaders in Congress are working together to break the impasse involving the FAA so that tens of thousands of construction workers and others can go back to work," Obama said in a statement. "We can't afford to let politics in Washington hamper our recovery, so this is an important step forward."
The temporary resolution means about 4,000 FAA workers and 70,000 construction workers can get back to work after going nearly two weeks without pay. The federal government has lost about $360 million in tax revenue on airline tickets because of the standoff.
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) praised the agreement but took a shot at Republicans for jamming the process.
"House Republicans made it clear they would continue to hold the entire aviation system hostage," Rockefeller said in a statement. "I deplore those tactics, but ultimately the stakes for real people are too high."
Earlier Thursday, Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) ripped Democrats for describing GOP tactics in the FAA fight as "hostage-taking." He also knocked LaHood, a former House GOP colleague, for invoking that phrase to compel Congress to come back into session and deal with FAA reauthorization at a time when Rep. Frank Lobiando (R-N.J.), a fellow member of the House Transportation Committee, is away at his mother's funeral.
LaHood's characterization "is vulgar," LaTourette said. "I think that the Secretary owes Frank an apology."