Congress wrapped up its summer work Tuesday without passing legislation to keep the Federal Aviation Administration open. Political bickering has partially shut it down – and may continue to until after Labor Day when Congress returns from its August recess.
The fight between Senate Democrats and House Republicans forced the FAA to temporarily lay off 4,000 employees nationwide including 79 in Alaska. So while Congress enjoys its August break, the workers are still furloughed. The partial shutdown has also halted airport construction projects, threatening 70,000 construction jobs, according to the Obama Administration. It’s costing $30 million a day in uncollected airline ticket taxes, far more than the amount of money the original dispute is over.
Alaska’s Congressional delegation implored leadership to fix the situation before leaving town. Senator Mark Begich blames one House member – Congressman John Mica of Florida, head of the Transportation Committee. He got legislation passed through the Republican led House that cuts subsidies to three rural airports in the Lower 48.
“Especially peak summer season, making sure the FAA is doing the job they need by doing the construction work that’s been scheduled that now will cost more, the revenue stream that goes to the airport, revenue not being collected now,” Begich said. “This petty politics is killing and hurting this industry because of one individual.”
Democrats say Mica is holding hostage funding for rural airports because the Senate didn’t accept anti-union legislation. The short term extension passed by the House does not include the labor issue, but Democrats say Mica is playing politics and they won’t pass it.
Even though Congressman Don Young is a Republican he does not like Mica’s legislation. But he missed the vote on it last month because he was out of town.
Congress is going home until Labor Day but the bodies will be in what are called “pro forma sessions,” briefly gaveling in every few days even though members are gone. So if there’s agreement on the FAA issue, a bill could be passed. But until then workers are off the job, projects are in full stop, and the government could lose more than a billion dollars in uncollected taxes.