CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS – TRANSPORTATION & INFRASTRUCTURE
Updated Aug. 3, 2011 – 4:32 p.m.
Obama Joins Calls for Quick End to FAA Standoff
By Kathryn A. Wolfe, CQ Staff
President Obama sent Congress a blunt message Wednesday: Act by the end of the week to reopen the Federal Aviation Administration.
“I’m urging the House and the Senate to take care of this,” Obama said before meeting with his Cabinet on Wednesday. “This is an example of a self-inflicted wound that is unnecessary. And my expectation, and I think the American people’s expectation, is that this gets resolved before the end of this week.”
Obama said that he has been calling members of Congress to try to spur some progress.
“This is a lose-lose-lose situation that can be easily solved if Congress gets back into town and does its job,” the president said. “And they don’t even have to come back into town,” he said, noting that it could be done through unanimous consent in the pro forma sessions being held in both chambers during the recess. “They can have the fights that they want to have when they get back.”
But on Wednesday morning, lawmakers on both sides showed no signs of budging. Instead, they battled to swing public opinion behind them on an issue that could have significant political ramifications.
With the debt ceiling fight settled for the moment, the FAA impasse — which had been on the back burner — has careened into public attention. As the public starts to pay attention, neither side wants to be perceived as responsible for thousands of construction job layoffs in a weak economy and the loss of more than $1 billion in tax revenue at a time of fiscal austerity.
The FAA’s authorization expired July 22 when the latest of 20 short-term extensions (PL 112-21) expired. The Republican House passed an extension (
As a result of the impasse, the FAA has laid off some 3,500 employees and shut down hundreds of airport construction projects, imperiling the jobs of some 70,000 construction workers. The Treasury has been unable to collect the excise taxes that fund the aviation system, at a cost estimated at $25 million to $30 million a day.
Just before the president spoke on Wednesday, Senate Democrats called for the House to send over immediately a clean FAA extension that could be cleared in the pro forma session by unanimous consent.
“I urge you, Speaker Boehner, to end this,” said Majority Leader
“The only reason so many jobs are at stake is Senate Democratic leaders chose to play politics rather than pass the House bill,” Boehner said. “I respect the fact that senators have certain objections, but they have had two weeks to respond to the House bill and done nothing, leaving tens of thousands of workers in limbo. The House has done its job, and now it’s time for senators to do theirs.”
Feud Over Airport Subsidies
Obama Joins Calls for Quick End to FAA Standoff
The immediate point of contention is language in the House-passed extension cutting funding for the Essential Air Service (EAS), which subsidizes passenger service to underserved, small rural airports. Republicans accuse the Senate Democrats of obstructing progress on the FAA bill and jeopardizing jobs and tax revenue by fighting to retain those subsidies.
Democrats say such policy differences should be addressed in a conference on a long-term FAA authorization — not in an extension — and note that they named conferees months ago while the House has not made its appointments.
They also say that the EAS language is being used as leverage to force Democrats to accept language in the House-passed multi-year FAA authorization (
At a Capitol Hill news conference, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman
Reid said that Delta Air Lines, which is less unionized that other major airlines, is driving the GOP effort. “The issue is a labor agenda — the anti-union agenda of one airline,” he said.
Rockefeller and Reid said Democrats refuse to accept the House’s extension because it is only the first in a string of demands they will place on future FAA extensions.
“Next they’ll go to something else,” Reid said. “We are not going to be held hostage on this. They’re going to give us something else come September.”
The Obama administration, meanwhile, played up the image of Congress leaving town for a monthlong vacation while thousands of airport construction workers and FAA employees were left without paychecks.
“This is exactly what Americans loathe about the process,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. “It is wholly inappropriate for members of Congress to go on vacation, go on recess,and leave this issue hanging.”
At the same White House briefing, Transportation Secretary
“Stop your vacation, come back to Washington, pass a clean bill,” he said. “People get this because it’s hurting their friends and their neighbors. This is why people shake their heads when they think about Congress.”
First posted Aug. 3, 2011 1:44 p.m.