Aug. 5, 2011 -- With a deal in place to end the Federal Aviation Administration's nearly two-week shutdown, relief is on the way for the more than 75,000 construction workers, engineers and safety inspectors who lost their paychecks when FAA funding expired July 23.
The Senate is expected to pass a short-term funding bill today that passed in the House earlier this month.
If President Obama signs the bill today, which he is expect to do, furloughed workers should be back to work Monday morning and the nearly 250 abandoned airport construction projects will be back up and building.
"This agreement does not resolve the important differences that still remain," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday in a statement. "But I believe we should keep Americans working while Congress settles its differences, and this agreement will do exactly that."
Funding for the FAA was held "hostage," as Reid said, because of a provision in the House bill that cut $16.5 million in subsidies to rural airports, a provision Senate Democrats staunchly opposed. While the Senate bill will keep the House's cuts, it also gives Treasury Secretary Ray LaHood the authority to grant waivers allowing some of the subsidies to continue.
The short-term bill will extend funding through Sept. 16.
President Obama, who has called the stalemate another "self-inflicted wound on the economy," issued a statement today supporting Reid's agreement to end the shutdown.
"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. We can't afford to let politics in Washington hamper our recovery, so this is an important step forward," Obama said in the statement.
But the good news stops there.
The 13-day shutdown has cost the FAA more than $350 million in uncollected airline ticket taxes alone, because the agency could not take in revenue without congressional approval. On top of that, contractors across the country racked up hefty rental fees for construction equipment that sat idle on boarded-up building sites, costs they will pass on the FAA.
For example, after stop-work orders halted parking lot replacement and runway light projects at the Chicago O'Hare International Airport, contractors paid $8,000 to $10,000 per day for rental equipment that could not be used, said FAA engineer Curt Howe.
Similarly, contractors in Las Vegas were losing about $8,700 per day in overhead costs. Oakland, Calif., contractors said they were losing about $6,000 and builders in Palm Springs, Calif., were out about $2,000 daily.
"I'd like Congress to get out their own personal checkbooks for the damages they're causing," Howe said just hours before the Senate deal was announced.
Howe flew in to Washington, D.C., this week to plead with lawmakers to pass an FAA funding bill so he and his fellow furloughed engineers could go back to work.
He said the work stoppage on construction projects is causing "huge financial damages to the FAA" because, for example, half-finished roofs are being ruined in the rain.
"It's kind of like rust," Howe said. "It's sitting there and getting rustier and rustier, and nobody's taking care of it."While Howe and his fellow FAA employees can go back to work next week, it is unclear whether they will get back-pay for the days they were furloughed. Congress would have to approve the back-pay.
As for the uncollected airline ticket taxes, both the IRS and the Treasury Department said it would be up to Congress to decide whether the government would try to wrangle them from the airlines, most of which pocketed the money that would have gone to taxes by raising their fares.
Travelers should still be able to recoup the taxes they paid for flights that took off between July 23 and Aug. 5, while the FAA was shut down.