WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) -- Lawmakers on Wednesday appeared far from a deal to extend funding authority for the Federal Aviation Administration -- leaving some 4,000 federal employees and thousands more construction and support staff workers off the job.
The Senate went on break Tuesday without approving what would have been the 21st short-term funding extension for the FAA. The Republicans passed that extension, but it includes some changes to FAA programs to which Democrats object.
The FAA has been partially shut down for more than a week, with only air traffic controllers, mechanics and those integral to keeping planes flying safely on the job.
President Obama weighed in on Wednesday, calling the impasse "a lose-lose-lose situation" that could be "easily solved," something he expects to happen before the end of the week.
"Congress has decided to play some politics with it and as a consequence they left town without getting this extension done," Obama said.
In a press conference Wednesday, top Democrats blamed Republicans for the work stoppage. Republicans, in turn, have blamed Democrats.
"We're telling Speaker (John) Boehner: Stop this foolishness. We're not going to be held hostage, like you did with the debt ceiling process," said Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"This issue has nothing to do with essential air services and everything to do with a labor dispute between airlines and the American worker," he added.
But John Mica, the Florida Republican who chairs the House Transportation committee, said Senate Democrats have only themselves to blame.
"Senate Democrats had a House-passed FAA extension before them for two weeks but chose to do nothing," Mica said.
Republicans and Democrats acknowledge that causes of the stalemate are twofold. Of immediate concern is language in Mica's proposal that would reduce or kill subsidies to rural airports, specifically targeting airports in Nevada, Montana and New Mexico -- three states with Democratic senators.
But a bigger dispute loomed behind the scenes, in a bill that would provide funding for the FAA for several years. That bill would make it easier for airline employees to unionize. Democrats generally have supported unionization efforts, while Republicans have generally opposed them.
Democratic Senators, including Charles Schumer of New York and Barbara Boxer of California, said Democrats don't want to give in to Republican demands that go beyond funding the FAA, especially after giving in on the issue of raising the limit on U.S. borrowing while agreeing to massive spending cuts.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood spoke at the White House briefing on Tuesday and urged lawmakers to return to Capitol Hill to figure out a deal.
"Leave your vacations just for a couple of hours. Come back Congress. Help your friends and neighbors get back to work," said LaHood, a former Republican congressman serving in the Obama administration. "They are without paychecks. They don't know at the end of the day whether they are going to be able to make their next mortgage payment, car payment."
"This is why people shake their heads when they think about Congress," LaHood said.
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