What's $16.5 million among adversaries? Enough to ground the FAA.
Republicans and Democrats are at it again. A dispute over air service subsidies for 13 rural communities has left the FAA without a funding extension. Thousands of workers are affected.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Don't look now, but there's another budget impasse that a sharply divided Congress can't seem to resolve.
This one doesn't involve the whole government, but it has resulted in a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration during the height of summer vacation season.
And the disagreement pits House Republicans who want to cut some subsidies for rural air service, and Senate Democrats who don't. Both sides say they want to extend the FAA's funding authority, but that won't happen unless they can settle the spat.
The subsidies at stake total just $16.5 million. In relation to the whole federal budget, that's barely even pocket change. But Democrats say the money makes a difference in the 13 affected communities.
Congress's latest funding extension for the FAA expired on July 22. Since then vital operations such as air-traffic control have continued, but dozens of airport modernization projects have been put on hold nationwide. Some 4,000 agency workers have been furloughed and tens of thousands of construction workers have been sidelined, the agency estimates.
Airline taxes that normally provide revenue are going uncollected, costing the government $200 million in recent days.
President Obama urged lawmakers to end the partial shutdown quickly.
"My expectation, and I think the American people's expectation, is that this gets resolved by the end of this week," he said.
Until Wednesday, the partial shutdown at the FAA has been overshadowed by the larger budget-related question of whether Congress would agree on a plan to raise the nation's debt ceiling before the government was pushed toward default on some of its obligations.
After an arduous effort ended in a deficit-cutting accord, lawmakers boarded their favored long-distance transportation devices – known to the FAA and others as airplanes – and left for an August vacation.
“Members of Congress should not get on a plane to fly home for vacation without passing an FAA bill and putting thousands of people back to work,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said.
Mr. LaHood, a Texas Republican, criticized members of Congress from both parties, arguing that on Americans' top concern of job creation the lawmakers "talk the talk, but they have not walked the walk."
House Speaker John Boehner, in a statement Wednesday, blamed the Senate for failing to take action after the House passed its FAA funding bill.
"The only reason so many jobs are at stake is Senate Democratic Leaders chose to play politics rather than pass the House bill," Mr. 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.”
Critics of the House-backed subsidy cuts argue that it is Republicans who have caused the partial shutdown.
"In another blatant example of political theater, the House Republicans refused to pass a routine measure to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement released Wednesday. He said the furloughs of FAA aviation experts and tens of thousands of construction workers comes as the construction industry already faces jobless rates near 20 percent nationally.
The whole air-service subsidy program costs about $200 million per year.
The 13 cities facing possible cuts in their subsidies are Athens, Ga.; Morgantown, W.Va.; Glendive, Mont.; Alamogordo, N.M.; Ely, Nev.; Jamestown, N.Y.; Bradford, Pa.; Hagerstown, Md.; Jonesboro, Ark.; Johnstown, Pa.; Franklin/Oil City, Pa.; Lancaster, Pa., and Jackson, Tenn.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.