Impasse Grounds 4,000 Employees at Federal Aviation Administration

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Some 4,000 employees of the Federal Aviation Administration have been told to stay home after lawmakers in Washington failed to renew funding for the agency just hours before it expired Friday.

The stalemate means the FAA is unable to collect taxes and fees on airline tickets, costing the government about $200 million a week, according to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Democrats in the Senate refused to vote for a bill approved by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which includes a provision making it more difficult for airline and rail workers to unionize.

The House bill also reduces subsidies to rural airports, allocations that Democrats favor.

Speaking Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," 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, UPI reported.

Democrats countered that Republicans are simply not willing to negotiate. "The Republicans in the House said, 'It's our way or, sorry, 4,000 people are laid off,'" White House Chief of Staff William Daley told the TV news program. "That's not the way the government's supposed to work."

The nation's airlines are supposed to collect the tax on behalf of the government. But since the tax has temporarily expired, the money is instead going into the airline companies' pockets.

That doesn't mean airfares are any cheaper, however, as The Consumerist website notes. Indeed, instead of lowering prices, airlines, including US Airways, American, United/Continental and Delta have all "reportedly ramped up their rates to take advantage of the temporary absence of the tax."

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