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FAA Shutdown: Deal reached to end shutdown

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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 which took less than 30 seconds, two senators were present to approve a House-passed bill extending FAA's operating authority through mid-September. The remaining members of Congress began their August recess 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 soon as Monday if President Barack Obama signs the bill before then. The shutdown has cost the government about $400 million in uncollected airline ticket taxes and idled thousands of construction workers.

"I'm pleased that Congress has passed an agreement which will allow tens of thousands of people to return to their jobs rebuilding runways and working on construction projects all over America," President Obama said in a statement.

This impasse was an unnecessary strain on local economies across the country at a time when we can’t allow politics to get in the way of our economic recovery.

A bipartisan compromise reached Thursday cleared the way for Senate passage of the House bill, which includes a provision eliminating $16.5 million in air service subsidies to 13 rural communities. But the bill also includes language that gives Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood the authority to continue subsidized service to the 13 communities if he decides it's necessary

Republicans had insisted on the subsidy cuts as their price for restoring the FAA to full operation..

Democrats said they expect the administration to effectively waive or negate the cuts, although that won't happen right away. That's because the cuts don't kick in until existing contracts with airlines for the subsidized service expires. The length of those contracts vary by community.

The shutdown began when much of Washington was transfixed by the stalemate over increasing the government's debt limit. During that time, the FAA furloughed some workers but kept air traffic controllers and most safety inspectors on the job. Forty airport safety inspectors worked without pay, picking up their own travel expenses. Some 70,000 workers on construction-related jobs on airport projects from Palm Springs, Calif., to New York City were idled as the FAA couldn't pay for the work.

But airline passengers in the busy travel season hardly noticed any changes. Airlines continued to work as normal, but they were no longer authorized to collect federal ticket taxes at a rate of $30 million a day. For a few lucky ticket buyers, prices dropped. But for most, nothing changed because airlines raised their base prices to match the tax.

Some passengers will now be eligible for tax refunds if they bought their tickets before July 23 and their travel took place during the shutdown.

As the debt ceiling crisis passed and Congress began to leave town without resolving the standoff, Obama spoke out Wednesday and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urged Congress to return to Washington to deal with the issues. Obama expressed dismay that Congress would allow up to $1.2 billion in tax revenue to go out the door — the amount that could have been lost by the time lawmakers would have returned in September.

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