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CQ Roll Call-Labor Tries to Break DeMint's Blockade of FAA Nominee

By Admin
[By Nathan Hurst, CQ Roll Call]

Organized labor is rallying in opposition to Republican Sen. Jim DeMint’s continued hold on confirmation of the Federal Aviation Administration’s top official.

The conservative South Carolina senator initially blocked action on the nomination of Michael P. Huerta, currently the acting FAA administrator, saying he wanted to preserve the opportunity for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to name his own appointee to the post, which carries a five-year term.

But the hold remains in place, and labor groups that support Huerta’s nomination are trying to put pressure on Senate leaders to act.

Paul Rinaldi, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said in a written statement that Huerta’s “continued leadership is essential to maintaining our industry’s progress.”

“This is a particularly important period for the FAA and the U.S. aviation industry as we transition to the multibillion-dollar NextGen air traffic control system and shift from ground-based radar to state-of-the-art satellite technology,” Ed Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO’s transportation trades department, wrote in a Nov. 19 letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Huerta took the reins at FAA in December after former Administrator Randy Babbitt was accused of drunken driving in Fairfax, Va. The charges were dropped after Babbitt gave up his post.

Huerta, who was Babbitt’s deputy, stepped in as acting administrator. In addition to his work in the Obama administration, Huerta worked in the Transportation Department during the Clinton administration and helped develop transportation systems for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Romney was president and CEO of the organizing committee for those games.

During a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing in June, some of Huerta’s answers to questions were criticized as vague by Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. But the committee voted to send the nomination to the Senate floor.

DeMint is in line to become the top-ranking Republican on the panel in the next Congress.

Aviation industry and labor lobbyists said they are puzzled by DeMint’s continued opposition to Huerta’s nomination. “If this was just about leaving open options for Romney, then why keep this thing going?” one industry lobbyist asked.

Aides to DeMint did not respond to requests for comment.