Congress reaches deal to end FAA shutdown

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Air Traffic Controller Sleeping
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Updated at 5:18 p.m. ET

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Thursday that Congress has reached a deal to end the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration.

"I am pleased to announce that we have been able to broker a bipartisan compromise between the House and the Senate to put 74,000 transportation and construction workers back to work," the Nevada Democrat said in a statement. "This agreement does not resolve the important differences that still remain. But I believe we should keep Americans working while Congress settles its differences, and this agreement will do exactly that."

The FAA partially shut down on July 23 after Congress failed to pass an extension of the agency's existing budget authorization. Congress has done that simple extension, with no strings attached, 20 times in the past four years.

At issue had been a provision, which Republicans put in a longer-term FAA funding bill, that rolls back some union rights. On top of that, Democrats were angry that Republicans inserted into the short-term funding bill a provision to cut subsidies for air service to 13 rural communities. Democrats on Wednesday accused Republicans of "government by hostage-taking."

Under the agreement, however, the Senate will accept the House-approved, short-term extension that includes the cuts to subsidies for rural communities. The Senate could pass the bill by unanimous consent as early as tomorrow.

President Obama released a statement hailing the breakthrough.

"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," he said. "We can't afford to let politics in Washington hamper our recovery, so this is an important step forward."

A Transportation Department official tells CBS News that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will use the authority he's granted in the bill to waive the subsidy cuts if they present a "hardship" to a community. "Secretary LaHood has the authority to issue waivers and will use that authority where appropriate under the law," the official said.

In other words, the bill will serve as a clean extension of FAA funding until Congress passes the next funding bill.

"This is a tremendous victory for American workers everywhere," LaHood said in a statement. "From construction workers to our FAA employees, they will have the security of knowing they are going to go back to work and get a paycheck - and that's what we've been fighting for. We have the best aviation system in the world and we intend to keep it that way."

The shutdown left 4,000 FAA employees furloughed and brought more than 200 construction projects to a halt. An estimated 70,000 other private-sector workers were also affected. Air traffic controllers and safety inspectors remained on the job, since the agency still had money from another pool of funds to pay them.

Democrats this week called the FAA fight "a made-up crisis," in the words of Sen. Barbara Boxer, with Republicans refusing to budge on the $16 million in subsidies, even as the government lost about $30 million a day in uncollected airline ticket taxes because of the shutdown.

Republicans, meanwhile, blamed Senate Democrats for breaking their promise to pass the House short-term extension. "That's indefensible, and they should end this crisis immediately," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.

Democrats said that if they relented and passed the House bill -- as they now have agreed to do -- Republicans would push the envelope further and demand the union roll-backs later.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, released a statement today saying that in the future, policy riders should be left out of short-term funding bills.

"Additionally, Democrats will not allow a handful of Republicans to hijack the debate over a long-term FAA extension to serve an anti-worker agenda," he said. "We must work quickly to craft a long-term bipartisan reauthorization and I encourage Speaker Boehner and House Republicans to join Democrats in a conference committee to sit down and forge a lasting compromise."

LaHood, the only Republican in President Obama's cabinet and a former House Republican, called on Congress on Wednesday to "take a little detour from their own vacation" to pass some kind of extension.

Meanwhile, Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, one of the congressmen involved in the FAA negotiations, held a press conference Thursday to condemn LaHood and Senate Democrats for calling House Republicans "hostage takers." He placed the blame for the stand off squarely on two senators -- Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.

LaTourette said that Coburn was staunchly committed to keeping the subsidy cuts in the Senate version of the bill, while Rockefeller was staunchly opposed to them. According to LaTourette, both Senate Democratic Leader Reid and House Speaker John Boehner made a good effort to get a clean, short-term extension passed.

"It is time to declare B.S. on the messaging that is occurring," LaTourette said.

Rockefeller, head of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, released a statement Thursday after Reid's announcement, saying Congress could not afford to let the shutdown continue.

"House Republicans made it clear they would continue to hold the entire aviation system hostage," he said. "I deplore those tactics, but ultimately the stakes for real people are too high."

Boehner's spokesman Steel said today, "We are pleased the Senate has agreed to pass the House-approved FAA extension tomorrow."