WASHINGTON Senate Democrats on Tuesday urged Republicans in the House of Representatives to begin "serious negotiations" on an aviation funding bill that they said could help the struggling U.S. economy.
In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, a group of Senate Democrats asked him to appoint a formal negotiating panel "so that serious negotiations may begin" with the Senate over the stalled legislation.
An impasse between House Republicans and Senate Democrats over funding for rural airports and workers' rights forced a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration last month that lasted for nearly two weeks. Airport construction was halted and thousands of workers were idled.
Work started up again after a temporary funding bill passed Congress, but that money runs out on September 16.
"Action on a final FAA bill is long overdue, and Congress should not delay any longer to resolve the differences between the Senate and House bills," said the letter signed by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and five other Senate Democrats.
The House and the Senate have passed different versions of FAA funding legislation earlier this year and the two bodies have to work out their differences before Congress can send a final bill to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The Senate has appointed members to a so-called conference committee that is supposed to negotiate agreement on a final bill. But the House has yet to name its members to the panel.
"The lack of conferees from the House is the main obstacle standing in the way of Congress' ability to produce a bipartisan, long-term, extension of the FAA," the Democrats wrote. They argued that the FAA reauthorization could create or save more than 280,000 jobs "at a time when our economy needs jobs the most."
Boehner's spokesman, Kevin Smith, said the Democrats were to blame for the impasse.
"The main obstacle to completing work on a long-term FAA bill is the unwillingness of Senate Democrats to find consensus on a small host of issues, not the appointment of conferees. Despite ongoing discussions for months, Senate Democrats have refused to negotiate in good faith and find middle ground on which all parties can agree," Smith said.
(Reporting by Donna Smith and JoAnne Allen; Editing by Philip Barbara)