The White House said on Wednesday it was looking at ways to end a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration that has halted airport construction projects employing thousands of people and extended the summer's political battles.
But transportation experts said the Obama administration has little room to maneuver, and instead officials pressured Congress to break a deadlock that has held up FAA funds for 12 days so far.
"We are obviously looking at the different options that we have, that (President Barack Obama) has," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
"The simple reality is that, because of a political dispute ... because of an ideologically driven decision made, there is a stalemate over a measure that has never been a problem in the past," Carney said.
Lawmakers left town this week for their summer recess and are not due back until early September. But the administration pressed them to take emergency action on the bill to fund airport construction and inspection programs employing more than 74,000 people through mid-September.
"They can still do it," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters at the White House. "The adjournment resolutions allow them to come back" and pass legislation.
But LaHood, a former Republican congressman, said earlier in the day that such action was not likely while Congress was on vacation for a month.
The shutdown, now in its 12th day, has added to the acrimony that has defined Washington during the summer's political brawl over raising the U.S. debt ceiling.
"So many people desperate for work are being told they can't because, once again, the House Republicans, rather than legislate the way we've done around here for a long time, feel they have the empowerment to hurt individual people," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said.
But House of Representatives Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, a Republican whose FAA spending proposal triggered the dispute, said in a statement that the Senate chose to protect its own interests rather than end the standoff.
Passed easily by the Republican-led House, Mica's plan hit a nerve over a surprise provision that would cut subsidies for rural air service in the home states of key Democrats, including Reid.
The administration's hands were mostly tied over the funding quagmire, and would find it difficult to take the kind of money at stake in the shutdown -- $360 million so far -- from one agency budget source and apply it to FAA airport construction.