By JOSEPH WILLIAMS | 7/25/11 11:18 PM EDT
To anyone watching the debt ceiling and deficit reduction debate, the scenario that has played out at the Federal Aviation Administration the past few weeks mostly below Washington’s own radar might seem eerily familiar:
The normally routine appropriations process for the agency that oversees the nation’s passenger travel bogs down in a divided Congress because of partisan bickering. Legislative gridlock ensues and urgent warnings are issued about the dangers of failing to act. But in this case, the doomsday clock for passing a bill approving the FAA’s funding hits zero, there is no eleventh-hour solution, and suddenly there are real consequences.
The stalemate that began over a plan by House Republican to slash subsidies to rural airports — and Senate Democrats’ anger over a bill that guts a pro-union mediation ruling — is now costing the government roughly $30 million a day in uncollected taxes. And it led the FAA to furlough thousands of employees in 35 states as well as shut down dozens of much-needed airport projects, like upgraded control towers and expanded runways, just weeks before summer construction season ends.
The snafu over the FAA’s funding led Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to deliver a tongue-lashing to Congress on Monday that echoed the eat-your-peas scolding his boss, President Barack Obama, gave lawmakers about the debt ceiling impasse just a few weeks ago.
“Congress needs to work out their differences so that 4,000 people can go back to work,” LaHood told reporters on a conference call. “They need to remove the onerous language and provisions and save the debate for another day … We need a bill today. Congress has the ability to do it” and must act immediately.
But there’s no solution in sight. Both Democrats and Republicans are dug in, blaming one another for playing partisan politics and triggering the shutdown. While LaHood and others say the partial FAA shutdown won’t affect air traffic and safety, analysts say the deadlock puts the nation further behind in badly needed infrastructure upgrades and is costing hundreds of millions in tax revenue — money it may never get back.
“It’s a perfect analogy” to the debt ceiling debate, a sign of “congressional dysfunctionality,” said Andrew Steinberg, a partner in the law firm Jones Day and a former high-ranking FAA administrator and transportation department official under President George W. Bush. “This is the first time lack of passing a [funding] extension has led to the furlough of FAA employees. … It’s a bad situation. It’s not good for the public.”
Long-term funding authority for the FAA, passed during the Bush administration, expired in 2007, and Congress has squabbled over replacing it ever since. Lawmakers have kept the agency’s doors open through a series of 20 short-term extension bills, pro-forma legislation that had never failed to pass — until Friday, when Congress missed the deadline and the FAA partially shut down.
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Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0711/59875.html#ixzz1TGFoP1VT