Why is Washington a mess and the nation's finances in trouble?
The answer can be found, in part, in Congress's fight over funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. That's the agency which runs the nation's airports, provides construction jobs, and regulates and enforces airline safety—an issue that has been of some importance to Americans since 9-11. [See a collection of political cartoons on airport security.]
Republican lawmakers want to cut subsidies for rural airports, and further want to reverse an Obama administration decision that would make it easier for airline employees to unionize. The congressional standoff has forced a partial shutdown at the FAA, and deprived the federal treasury of—so far—$200 million in revenues from taxes passengers pay when they fly. Notably, the $200 million is the size of the entire rural airports subsidy program, meaning that the Capitol fight has cost the government far more money than it would have saved if the GOP had gotten its way on the budget cuts. Since Congress has adjourned until September, the treasury is expected to lose $1 billion in revenues from flyers.
The real issue, however, may not be cash, but a deep ideological divide over unions. The previous rule required union organizers to secure support from a majority of all a company's employees; the new Obama administration rules put the standard at a majority of everyone who turned out to vote. House Republicans don't like the new rule, and are insisting that the Senate okay their reversal of the standard as a condition of keeping the FAA running. [Check out our editorial cartoons on the GOP.]
So far, the FAA has been able to continue to conduct air traffic control and other safety work. But 4,000 agency employees have been furloughed, and thousands more have lost work because the FAA has been forced to issue stop-work orders on some 200 construction projects.
Congress, meanwhile, is gone for the rest of the summer, back in their districts to commune with their constituents. Perhaps someone will suggest that congressmen secure a majority of all eligible voters—not just a majority of those who turn out at the polls—to keep their jobs