Thursday, July 28, 2011 | 2 a.m.
The Federal Aviation Administration put 4,000 workers on an unpaid furlough last week and stopped several important construction projects. Those projects include a needed new control tower at McCarran International Airport, designed to increase safety.
Congress didn’t reauthorize the FAA’s funding, and it also didn’t allow the FAA to collect the tax on airline tickets that helps fund the agency. It did, however, allow essential workers — like air traffic controllers — to stay on the job.
The problem is political. Republicans are trying to impose their will on the country, and judging by this, they’re willing to go to harsh lengths to do it.
Since 2007, Congress has approved 20 short-term funding measures for the FAA while it works on a comprehensive aviation bill. The Senate passed a funding extension in February but the House took up its own version. Instead of continuing the funding, as Congress has in the past, Republicans attached a few controversial proposals. One would cut subsidies that help provide commercial airline service to 13 rural airports. Another would change federal rules to make it more difficult for airline and railroad employees to form a union.
The bill passed the House last week on a vote split along party lines — Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., voted against it, and Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., voted for it. But the bill went nowhere in the Senate.
House Republicans complained about the Senate not taking up the bill and bashed the Democrats. Many Republicans complained about the cost of the subsidies, and Heck blamed the Senate for a loss of jobs at McCarran.
But if Heck wants to point fingers, he can go to his party’s caucus. This isn’t about the cost of the subsidies. Republicans are just playing partisan politics. Consider that among the list of airports that would lose subsidies are these: Ely, Morganstown, W.Va., and Glendive, Mont. That’s an obvious effort to tweak Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus.
Not that Republicans are trying to make this a secret. Republican Rep. John Mica, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, admitted that he included the cut to the subsidies as a “tool” to try to cut a deal with Democrats on the labor measure involving airline and railroad employees.
But he doesn’t appear willing to find common ground. He has refused to assign a conference committee to discuss differences in the legislation passed by the Senate and the House. He and his party simply want to strong-arm their narrow ideology on the country.
That’s offensive. Mica’s action has put people across the country out of work, and not just the FAA employees. His move has also meant that construction workers and airline employees have been sent home. And it has delayed important projects to improve the safety of the nation’s aviation system. As well, travelers are finding that their ticket prices haven’t gone down even though the airlines aren’t collecting the federal ticket tax that goes to the FAA. Many airlines have raised their prices to match the tax and are pocketing the extra money.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican, called on Congress to pass a bill reauthorizing funding for the FAA and leave the other issues aside.
“They should save the debate for a day when they have time to debate essential air service and the labor provision,” he said.
He is correct. The House should drop its demands and debate those things as part of the broader aviation bill. Cutting jobs and funding to force the other side’s hand is a terrible way to make policy. The Republican leadership in Congress doesn’t seem to understand that its crusade to implement its narrow ideology has real consequences that are affecting Americans.