U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood blasted the U.S. Congress for taking a summer recess before failing to resolve an impasse over funding for the Federal Aviation Administration, leaving more than $11 billion worth of airport construction projects stalled and more than 70,000 out of work.
That is happening, LaHood said, because “Congress has failed to reauthorize" the FAA in what until a few weeks ago was expected to be another in a series of short-term extensions.
Now, however, “we are smack dab in the middle of the construction season, but we are watching a Congress leave town without putting 74,000 workers back on the job,” LaHood said on his Fastlane blog. “Congress takes its vacation,” he said, while the workers “take their lumps.”
Most travelers will not notice the interruption since critical employees such as air traffic controllers remain on duty. But since FAA program authorization ran out last month, 4,000 of its workers have been furloughed and contractors say another 70,000 can’t work at job sites.
In addition, the FAA can’t collect its ticket taxes, and reports say that could cost the Treasury more than $1 billion before lawmakers could return to resolve their impasse in September.
But the delays in the heart of construction season are expected to add to construction costs and could cause renegotiation of some contract deadlines, while out of work employees would be expected to claim jobless insurance benefits.
LaHood said Congress could still act, since it is only recessed and not adjourned. But if Congress waits until returning from vacation after Labor Day, he said workers will have gone 50 days without pay. President Obama called it “another Washington-inflicted wound on America.”
The impasse came out of House objections to extending the Essential Air Service program that subsidizes ticket prices for small airports. The House passed an FAA short-term extension that would halt subsidies to small airports within 90 miles of a large or medium-sized air hub, but the Senate would not approve the House measure and House leaders refused to remove that provision.
Passage of a long-term FAA bill is snarled by a House-Senate dispute over National Mediation Board labor provisions. Both sides blamed others this week for the impasse and work disruptions.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va, chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said House Republicans were using the Essential Air Service to gain leverage over the NMB labor issue. “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,” he said.
Small airports that would lose subsidies under the House language include some in West Virginia, Montana and Nevada, said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “The House sent the 21st extension to the Senate almost two weeks ago,” Mica said. “The Senate could have avoided this entire situation by simply taking up the House-passed bill.”
-- Contact John D. Boyd at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/jboydjoc