Senate approves bill to end partial FAA shutdown

WASHINGTON - (AP) - The Senate approved legislation Friday ending a two-week partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration, clearing the way for thousands of employees to return to work and hundreds of airport construction projects to resume.Employing the so-called "unanimous consent" procedure whichtook less than 30 seconds, two senators were present to approve aHouse-passed bill extending FAA's operating authority throughmid-September. The remaining members of Congress began their Augustrecess earlier this week.On Friday, Democratic Sen. James Webb of Virginia stood up,called up the bill and asked that it be passed. Sen. Ben Cardin,D-Md., the presiding officer, agreed and it was done.Nearly 4,000 furloughed FAA employees can return to work as soonas Monday if President Barack Obama signs the bill before then. Theshutdown has cost the government about $400 million in uncollectedairline ticket taxes and idled thousands of construction workers. A bipartisan compromise reached Thursday cleared the way forSenate passage of the House bill, which includes a provisioneliminating $16.5 million in air service subsidies to 13 ruralcommunities. But the bill also includes language that givesTransportation Secretary Ray LaHood the authority to continuesubsidized service to the 13 communities if he decides it'snecessaryRepublicans had insisted on the subsidy cuts as their price forrestoring the FAA to full operation.Democrats said they expect the administration to effectivelywaive or negate the cuts, although that won't happen right away.That's because the cuts don't kick in until existing contracts withairlines for the subsidized service expires. The length of thosecontracts vary by community.The shutdown began when much of Washington was transfixed by thestalemate over increasing the government's debt limit. During thattime, the FAA furloughed some workers but kept air trafficcontrollers and most safety inspectors on the job. Forty airportsafety inspectors worked without pay, picking up their own travelexpenses. Some 70,000 workers on construction-related jobs onairport projects from Palm Springs, Calif., to New York City wereidled as the FAA couldn't pay for the work.But airline passengers in the busy travel season hardly noticedany changes. Airlines continued to work as normal, but they were nolonger authorized to collect federal ticket taxes at a rate of $30million a day. For a few lucky ticket buyers, prices dropped. Butfor most, nothing changed because airlines raised their base pricesto match the tax.

Some passengers will now be eligible for tax refunds if theybought their tickets before July 23 and their travel took placeduring the shutdown.As the debt ceiling crisis passed and Congress began to leavetown without resolving the standoff, Obama spoke out Wednesday andTransportation Secretary Ray LaHood urged Congress to return toWashington to deal with the issues. Obama expressed dismay thatCongress would allow up to $1.2 billion in tax revenue to go outthe door - the amount that could have been lost by the timelawmakers would have returned in September.Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the deal Thursdayafternoon, saying it would put 74,000 transportation andconstruction workers back to work.Sides reach compromise to end partial FAA shutdown Still no end in sight to FAA shutdown impasseAirlines raise ticket prices to offset lost federal taxes

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