There remains time on the legislative calendar this week to end the ongoing shutdown at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a top Democratic senator contends.
Some 4,000 FAA employees — and tens of thousands of private-sector workers employed on agency projects — have been furloughed since last month, when a short-term authorization for the agency expired.
Although essential personnel, such as air-traffic controllers, are still at work, other FAA staff are currently on the unemployment line.
If Congress fails to re-authorize the FAA before it leaves Washington this week, the federal government stands to lose more than $1 billion in airline ticket taxes because the aviation agency isn’t authorized to collect them. The airlines largely have been pocketing those uncollected taxes as additional profit.
Congressional Democrats contend the main sticking point in re-authorization is a desire by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) and other House Republicans to make it more difficult for employees to unionize.
“In a stunning display of politics over people, the House Republicans’ insistence on attaching anti-worker provisions to an aviation bill has brought about a terrible stalemate that is hurting the economy. The House brought about a partial shutdown of the FAA on July 23rd, and their stubborn adherence to that partisan stance led us to this point,” says Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
“Today, Republicans once again objected to a simple, fair request—a ‘clean’ extension of funding that would maintain operations into the fall, allow the FAA to function, and restart bipartisan negotiations, which Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and I have made clear we are ready to do,” he adds. “From day one, House GOP leaders admitted openly—almost proudly—that they were doing this to gain ‘leverage’ toward a larger goal—undermining worker rights. Now, the victims of that GOP ploy are the passengers, airport safety and construction projects, 4,000 furloughed workers and more than 70,000 construction jobs around the country that are on hold until the Republicans realize that they can’t use extortion to get their way on this.”
Although time is running short, Rockefeller says the House could still act on Friday before it adjourns for the month.
After consulting with the Congressional Research Service and House leaders, Rockefeller says that it is clear that under the House rules, the House could approve by unanimous consent a clean extension sent over by the Senate when it goes into session on Friday, if Republican Speaker John Boehner wanted to and both parties agreed.
Rockefeller isn’t the only lawmaker pressing for quick action.
Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee and chairman of the Congressional Urban Caucus, also wants resolution of the issue before lawmakers go home.
“Let’s keep the conversation going. Before Congress officially begins its August recess we must take action to get some 74,000 workers back on the job,” he says. “This is an important issue and I encourage our House and Senate leaders to keep talking, keep working and keep negotiating until all 74,000 employees affected by the failure of Congress to reauthorize the FAA are back on the job.
“Getting these employees back to work is vital to reducing unemployment and supporting the economic recovery,” Fattah adds.
Mica, however, argues that federal airport subsidies — not union rights — are the stumbling block to a deal.
The chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Mica also appears to be in no hurry, reportedly saying only that he has “no idea” when re-authorization could occur.
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.