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Lawmaker impasse partly shuts down FAA

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FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt testifies before the House Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the budget for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 6, 2011. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/72feee9718c122db3800b4a6ed9eab15/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt testifies before the House Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the budget for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 6, 2011. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg | License Photo

WASHINGTON, July 25 (UPI) -- Democrats and Republicans blame each other for a partial U.S. Federal Aviation Administration shutdown that temporarily put about 4,000 employees out of work.

At the same time, U.S. airlines took advantage of the moment by pocketing airline-ticket tax money that would normally go to the national aviation authority.

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A dispute over extending the agency's operating authority broke down Friday, several hours before the midnight deadline, "because of a political inability for the House and the Senate to get together," White House Chief of Staff William Daley told NBC's "Meet the Press."

"The Republicans in the House said, 'It's our way or, sorry, 4,000 people are laid off,'" Daley said. "That's not the way the government's supposed to work."

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But Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., blamed Democrats for wanting to squander $16.5 million on a wasteful FAA program to subsidize air service to 13 rural communities.

"You know what's holding up the FAA program?" Coburn asked on "Meet the Press." "It's essential air services where the American people are paying $1,000 a ticket in subsidy to people that are riding from airports with six passengers on a plane when they could drive an hour-and-a-half and get an airplane, and we wouldn't be paying the $1,000."

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"So it's continued waste and duplication in the federal government, and [Republicans] won't approve the FAA because [Democrats] continue to want to subsidize irresponsible and wasteful behavior," he said.

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House Republicans cut the $16.5 million in subsidies from a bill that would extend the FAA's operating authority. Senate Democrats refused to accept the cuts.

Lawmakers promised to take up the funding issue again Monday.

The nation's air travel system is not affected by the 4,000-plus workers being furloughed, along with tens of thousands of airport construction workers under FAA contract, FAA Administrator J. Randolph Babbitt said.

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Air traffic controllers remain on the job and airline operations continue normally, he said.

At least eight U.S. airlines took advantage of the fact that FAA taxes on airline tickets expired at midnight Friday by raising fares an amount equivalent to the tax drop. That meant instead of passing along the 7.5 percent savings, the airlines pocketed the money while customers paid the same amount for a ticket as before.

The airlines taking advantage of the congressional impasse were American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, US Airways, United Air Lines and soon-to-be merged acquisition Continental Airlines, Southwest Airlines and subsidiary AirTran Airways, and JetBlue Airways.

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