Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The FAA and Republicans...a confusing contradiction

In the past weeks we've witnessed a complete breakdown of the politics of compromise.  One side would, but couldn't...because the other side wouldn't.  At all!  Never!

It might be easy to understand an uncompromising position based upon principles, even if it means stupid things result, but how can we understand a position that directly contradicts other positions taken by the same people.  The current situation with the FAA highlights how the Republican Party has utterly failed to maintain it's own standards, let alone what's best for the American people.

Currently, the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, is not operating.  In fact, it hasn't really operated since 2007, the last time a budget for the agency was actually approved.  Since that time, it's had nothing but a series of continuing resolutions providing the money to operate.  Two weeks ago, the most recent one of those ran out, and since Congress took no action, everybody was furloughed.  Fortunately, air traffic controllers weren't, but only because they are classified as Essential Workers.

However, everybody else is off...sort of.  More about this in a minute.

There are several reasons Congress didn't act, but, in fact, they come down to two major issues.  The first is that the House, led by the majority Republicans, included in a funding extension the rescinding some $16.5 million to support rural airports.  It is worth noting that the airports in question are in states with Democratic Senators.  Not subtle, are they?

More importantly, the long term budget bill, which has also been passed by the House Republican majority, includes a whole bunch of language designed to make it much harder for air and rail employees (not the FAA employees) to form unions.  Some of this actually comes from a brawl between Delta Airlines and some of their people, but, of course, the Republican position on unions is well known, and if we want to see that perspective in action, just look at Wisconsin.

Anyway, because of those extreme positions, the Senate won't pass either bill, and the House Republicans won't compromise on them.  Sound familiar?  There's that dirty word again.

Now, let's look at the result:

First, more than 4000 FAA employees are out of work.  They have been told that they should apply for unemployment, since there is no projection of when they might be able to return.  Remember, Congress just took their month-long August break, so nothing's going to happen until September at the soonest.  It's pretty easy to see what is more important to Congressional Republicans, and it ain't jobs!

Second, because the funding also supports all sorts of construction projects at airports, more than 60,000 construction workers also aren't working.  That's more people out of work, and...they're losing the best part of the construction season.  Work already underway just came to a halt, during the busiest part of the flying year.  Jobs?  We don't need no stinkin' jobs?  We blame the unemployment rate on the President!

Third, and perhaps most important, is money.  Remember, that $16.5 million in support?  Well, to date, the FAA has already lost $250 million in taxes they haven't collected!  Yup, those are taxes paid by passengers who use the airports.  So, holding $16.5 million hostage has cost the government $250 million already, and the clock just keeps ticking!  The month of August will probably cause another $480 million to be lost.  What a bargain!

In short, the Republicans in the House complain about unemployment, but have laid off 65,000 people directly through their actions...and those layoffs didn't need to happen.  They have lost $250 million trying to save $16.5 million!  And, they have needlessly endangered the safety of our air travel system.

Now, up above, I mentioned that "everybody else was furloughed."  Actually, that's not quite true.  Some of the inspectors, who check things like radar systems, traffic control systems, runway safety and other unimportant things like that, have been "asked" to continue working...because...well, we want to be safe, right?  However, they're not being paid.  So, they are charging their costs on their personal credit cards, paying for their own travel, and also doing without a paycheck.  Presumably they will eventually be paid back for that...when (if) they get to go back to work.  However, given what we've just seen, that could be years from now.

Note:  Just like the debt ceiling crisis, this is entirely a created disaster!  It need never have happened.  It need not continue.  It is just the Republicans in the House once again standing up for principles...except, they can't decide exactly which of their principles is more important.

Jobs?  Nope.
Safety?  Nope.
Anti-union?  Yup!
Stick it to the Democrats?  Yup!
Cut spending?  Yup!*
Lower taxes?   Yup!*
Increase the deficit?  Yup!
Smaller government?  YUP!

*Like the Bush tax cuts, they lowered taxes more than they decrease spending, so...they increased the debt!

Do those decisions match yours?  Think about that when you hop on your next flight.  Oh...and if there's a crash?  Well, the FAA won't be able to help you.  They're closed right now.

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