WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said on Wednesday it was looking at ways to end a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration that has halted airport construction projects employing thousands of people and extended the summer’s political battles.
But transportation experts said the Obama administration has little room to manoeuvre, and instead officials pressured Congress for emergency action to break a deadlock that has held up full funding of the FAA for 12 days so far.
Obama said he had called key congressional leaders and a White House official confirmed one call was to House Speaker John Boehner.
“I‘m urging them to get this done,” Obama said in remarks before a Cabinet meeting.
It was unclear whether Obama’s discussions had any impact on the partisan standoff mainly over demands by the Republican-led House that Congress cut certain heavy subsidies for airlines that operate flights to underserved rural areas.
Obama spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that the White House was looking at steps that it could take to end the shutdown affecting more than 74,000 airport-related construction jobs and certain FAA personnel.
Lawmakers left town this week for their summer recess with the matter in limbo and are not due back until early September. The Obama administration said, however, that certain procedures would permit emergency action without bringing lawmakers back to Washington.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman, said such action was not likely although he did not dismiss it entirely.
“They can still do it,” LaHood said.
The shutdown has added to acrimony that has defined Washington during the summer’s political brawl over raising the U.S. debt ceiling.
Reid, in a letter to Boehner, said there was room for compromise on the FAA later but that it was “not honourable for the House” to attach the subsidy rider to what otherwise was a routine funding extension. Similar short-term budget extensions for the FAA had passed 20 times previously.
Boehner said in a statement that the House had “done its job” and the burden was on the Senate to act.
The administration’s hands were mostly tied over the funding quagmire, and would find it difficult to take the kind of money at stake in the shutdown -- $360 million so far -- from one agency budget source and apply it to FAA airport construction.
Further angering Obama and his administration is the decision by airlines to capitalize on the congressional inaction to legally not collect ticket taxes, and raise fares by a commensurate amount.
The windfall totalled more than $360 million so far and could top $1.2 billion if the standoff lasts until Congress returns in September.
“And we don’t anticipate it’s going to be easy to get that money back,” Obama said, “Even though the airlines are collecting it, they’re keeping it.”
The trade group representing Delta Air Lines (DAL.N), United Airlines (UAL.N), US Airways LCC.N and Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) say carriers are justified in boosting revenue to try to cover costs, which they cannot do now. (Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Laura MacInnis; Editing by Jackie Frank, Vicki Allen and Eric Walsh)