Is this any way to run an aviation system? Because of a childish, politically motivated and unresolved tiff to cut more than $14 million in government subsidies for 16 rural airports, Congress has gone on vacation without resolving a fight over funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. That leaves 4,000 FAA furloughed employees without paychecks and thousands more construction workers laid off. This pettiness is costing the nation $30 million a day in forever-lost federal excise taxes and fee revenue, and Congress should not have stopped working until this situation was resolved.
In this era of ideologically driven, piecemeal approach to governance, Congress for the past four years has been funding the FAA with 20 temporary spending bills. The House passed another temporary bill, but the Senate failed to act to keep the FAA fully operational, although air traffic controllers remain at their posts. Since Congress is not expected to return to work until after Labor Day, the loss of aviation trust fund tax and fee revenue could total as much as $1 billion. In the meantime, in an act of admirable patriotism, loyal and professional FAA inspectors have continued to do their work with no pay and cover their own expenses.
That loyalty to country is in short supply on Capitol Hill as partisan politics pervades the FAA kerfuffle. Many of the small, rural airports targeted to lose funding under the House bill happen to be in states represented by Senate Democrats. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, has insisted he is trying to ferret out wasteful spending. But that's a disingenuous argument as the daily toll of lost FAA revenue far exceeds the $14 million yearly allocation for the rural airports.
The FAA employees and the nation's air travelers are also being held hostage in a political spat over recent changes in federal labor regulations making it easier for unions to organize at airlines. Meanwhile many airlines continue to profit from the partial FAA shutdown by raising prices and pocketing the millions of dollars that would have been spent on federal taxes and fees.
After weeks of fighting over the debt ceiling, Congress should have resolved the FAA funding issue and put the agency and its contractors back on the job. Instead, everyone went on vacation and left $88 million in construction and research projects in Florida on hold. No wonder the public thinks so little of Congress.
President Barack Obama called it a "lose-lose-lose" situation on Wednesday and suggested a procedural maneuver for Congress to resolve the situation without returning to Washington. "And they can have the fights that they want to have when they get back," he said. "Don't put the livelihoods of thousands of people at risk. Don't put projects at risk. And don't let a billion dollars, at a time when we're scrambling for every dollar we can, get left on the table because Congress did not act."