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Washington Digest: Furlough vote allows planes to keep flying

WASHINGTON — Congress passed legislation last week to fix Federal Aviation Administration furloughs that were disrupting air travel and fueling growing public anger.

The House voted 361-41 to give the FAA flexibility to reallocate $253 million to staffing accounts from other parts of its budget. The Senate passed the bill without a recorded vote.

The bill sought to put an end to, or at least relax, the requirement that 15,000 air traffic controllers take an unpaid day off every 10 days. It also would reverse the closing of air towers at smaller airports.

FAA officials said they were forced into furloughs by the across-the-board budget cuts set in motion by the sequestration act passed in 2011 by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama.

When the air traffic control furloughs began taking effect last week, thousands of flights were delayed and lawmakers heard the complaints.

Democrats and Republicans sparred over possible solutions.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., suggested using savings from the winding-down war in Afghanistan to do away with the sequester entirely.

Republicans argued for keeping budget cuts in place but allowing agencies more flexibility to manage them.

Reps. Dina Titus and Steven Horsford, both D-Nev., and Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, both R-Nev., voted for the FAA fix.

INTERNET SALES TAX

The Senate neared passage of a bill that would authorize nationwide sales taxes on goods bought over the Internet.

Senators voted 63-30 to end debate on the bill, but final action was delayed until they return from a weeklong recess.

The measure wold allow states to require online retailers to collect sales taxes on purchases and then send the money to the states where the individual buyers live.

Currently, only a limited number of online transactions are taxed.

Supporters said the measure would level the playing field between online stores and brick-and-mortar stores already collecting sales taxes.

Some critics said it would impose a burden on businesses, while others attempted to characterize it as a tax increase on consumers.

Reid, D-Nev., voted to end debate on the bill. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted to continue debating.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.

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