As of midnight yesterday, the Federal Aviation Administration shut down due to Congress’ failure to reauthorize it. (Critical functions such as air traffic control will continue.) The shutdown means that up to 4,000 federal employees will be furloughed, around $2.5 billion worth of airport construction will cease, and around $200 million a week in ticket taxes will go uncollected.
Sen. Tom Coburn bemoaned the FAA shutdown on NBC’s Meet the Press this morning, saying that the shutdown occurred because of Washington’s inability to cut government spending to rural airports:
You mentioned the FAA program with [White House Chief of Staff Bill] Daley. You know what’s holding up the FAA program? Is essential air services where the American people are paying a thousand dollar a ticket subsidy to people that are riding from airports with six passengers on a plane, when they could drive an hour and a half to get an airplane and we wouldn’t be paying the thousand dollars. So continued waste and duplication in the federal government, and they won’t approve the FAA because they continue to want to subsidize irresponsible and wasteful behavior.
But Coburn left out a key part of the story. House Republicans, in their zeal to undercut workers’ rights wherever possible, are insisting on the inclusion of an anti-union provision in the FAA bill. The provision would make it harder for workers at airlines and railway companies to unionize by counting voters who don’t vote in union elections as having voted against the union (as if non-voters in a political election were counted as voting for one party or the other).
The cuts in subsidies to rural airports that Coburn mentioned were only added to the bill by House Transportation Committee John Mica (R-FL) in retaliation for Democrats in the Senate not bowing to the GOP’s anti-union demands. Mica admitted as much, calling the cuts “just a tool to try to motivate some action.” The real issue is that the GOP wants to legislatively strip workers of their rights, and are willing to shut down the FAA in order to do it.