With the debt-ceiling bill likely headed for the White House this afternoon, Congress has one important piece of pressing, unfinished business it should address before leaving town: the Republicans’ FAA fiasco. Unfortunately, the resolution will likely be at least a month away.
Congress appears ready to head off on summer vacation without resolving a funding stalemate that has resulted in the furlough of 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration employees and layoffs for about 70,000 airport construction workers.
The workers — including about 1,000 FAA employees in the Washington region — faced the prospect of going without a paycheck until after Labor Day. The agency also would lose an estimated $1.2 billion in ticket-tax revenue.
Like so many GOP-picked fights, this one is wildly unnecessary. In the House version of the FAA measure, Republicans included a measure to make it much more difficult for aviation and rail workers to unionize. The larger dynamic can get a little complicated, but the bottom line is this: airline industry workers are supposed to be able to hold a vote on whether to unionize. In these elections, the majority wins. Under the Republican proposal, workers who don’t participate in the vote would automatically be counted as “no” votes. The point, of course, would be to make it extremely difficult for workers to organize.
In the Senate version, the FAA is funded without the union-busting measure. The White House strongly backs the Senate’s approach.
In what passes as for a GOP “compromise,” House Republicans said they’d pass another temporary extension — the 21st in a row — while the chambers keep fighting, but only if Senate Democrats agree to eliminate funding for 13 rural airports, specifically targeting airports in the home states of Harry Reid (the Senate Majority Leader), Jay Rockefeller (chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee), and Max Baucus (chairman of the Senate Finance Committee that has jurisdiction over the aviation tax portions of the bill).
Democrats said this is ridiculous, so House Republicans allowed the partial FAA shutdown to begin two weeks ago. Then, after yesterday’s debt-ceiling vote, they started leaving town for an August recess.
The Senate can either pass the House’s temporary extension, and screw over rural airports in key states, or they can leave town, too, and revisit the issue in September.
And while we wait, this Republican game has forced thousands of industry workers to lose their paychecks, and it costing the government more than $200 million a week in ticket-tax revenue, and delaying $2.5 billion in airport infrastructure improvement projects.
All because some GOP officials want to make it harder for airline workers to form a union.
As the NYT editorial board recently explained, the FAA fiasco “should remind everyone of the costs of the Republicans’ obstructionism and their slash-and-burn budget games.”