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House up next on Senate-passed aviation bill as DMV lawmakers fume

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The Senate passed a five-year FAA reauthorization Thursday night with overwhelming bipartisan support — except from the Virginia and Maryland delegations, who are furious about an expansion of flights at Reagan National Airport.

The Senate cleared the major reauthorization 88-4. But the DMV senators held up the separate weeklong extension bill out of frustration about the DCA slots disagreement. The House had already left town after passing the short term extension to buy time before Friday’s expiration deadline.

But after 8 p.m., the holdouts relented.

“Out of concern for the safety of the flying public and in order to provide certainty to air traffic controllers and other essential personnel, Senator Warner and Senator Kaine have lifted their holds on the short-term FAA extension,” a spokesperson said.

Without the extension, current authorities would have expired overnight Friday, forcing the furlough of some 3,600 employees. (But note: Air traffic controllers are deemed “essential” employees and would nonetheless have continued working.)

A bit of added angst: Democratic Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine had to preside over the Senate as the agreement to speed up action on the FAA bill — without action on his DCA amendment — was being finalized.

“The Senate abdicated its responsibility to protect the safety of the 25 million people who fly through DCA every year. Just weeks after two aircraft nearly crashed into one another at DCA, this body refused to take up our commonsense amendment to remove a dangerous provision that would have crammed more flights onto the busiest runway in America,” Kaine and Warner said in a joint statement.

They say that “a few lawmakers’ desire for direct flights” won out over “the safety and convenience of the traveling public.”

The Senate was squeezed by the House on this key piece of legislation. With the one-week extension locked in, the House can now take control of the five-year reauthorization bill and are not forced to swallow what the Senate sent them against a pressing deadline. The House is expected to take the bill up on Tuesday when they return to Washington — many through DCA.

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.