Under the radar

    Free at last! Our long national nightmare is over, the debt ceiling is newly raised, and the ideological buffoons who ginned up the self-inflicted crisis have blessedly exited Washington – which surely means that, at least for the duration of the dog days, we will be spared any further manifestations of their obstructive behavior. Right?Wrong. While they cavort on vacation, we will have ample time to behold the havoc they’re wreaking on the Federal Aviation Administration. This crisis has been flying under the radar, as it were. But no longer.Thanks to the dysfunction which is now apparently de rigueur on Capitol Hill, the FAA has been partially shut down for the past 12 days. You may not have been aware of this, because the debt crisis sucked up all the media oxygen. And nothing will change with Congress now at leisure – which means that the FAA crisis will last at least 47 days, because the lawmakers won’t be doing business again until Sept. 7. That’s bad news for the 4000 FAA workers who have been furloughed without pay; bad news for the tens of thousands of construction workers who can’t earn their pay because FAA construction projects have been halted at the height of work season; and bad news for the many FAA inspectors who have volunteered to stay on the job without pay in order to ensure that the flying public remains safe.Care to guess why this has happened? I know this will come as a shock:House Republicans gummed up the works by embarking on another of their crusades. This time, they decided to indulge their deep-seated hostility to organized labor.The FAA crisis is much like the debt crisis, only in miniature form. The agency that oversees commercial flight has been financed since 2007 by roughly 20 “stopgap” bills. Passing such bills has long been a fairly routine matter – until now.Earlier this year, House Republicans, seeking to overturn a recent federal agency ruling that favors fair union elections, have concocted legislative language that would make it tougher for airline workers to unionize. Republicans have slipped this language into the pending FAA bill. But Senate Democrats have said no to the language. Result: the FAA bill twists in limbo. Result of limbo: the FAA has run out of money to pay for its runway improvement projects, construction projects, security upgrade projects, and the long-overdue project to improve its plane-routing technology. And all those idled workers naturally have to cut way back on their consumer spending at a time when the economy badly needs it.Basically, the House Republicans don’t like the National Mediation Board’s 2010 decree that unionization elections in the transportation industry should work the same way as political elections, that you should count only the voters who show up. That might strike you as obvious, but until the federal board’s ruling, unionization elections also counted the eligible workers who never bothered to show up. Those abstainers were counted as “no” votes. Which means that if a transit union garnered, say, three fourths of the voting workers, but 51 percent of all the workers didn’t show up, the union got beat.What the federal board essentially did was to require that the transportation industry abide by the same fairness rules that guide unionization elections in virtually all other industries. But the Republicans, who have been on an anti-labor jihad all year, won’t abide by that ruling. And when Senate Democrats refused last month to accept the FAA language, their House foes retaliated by adding a provision that erases federal subsidies to rural airports – in states represented by Senate Democratic leaders. One of the key House GOP guys has even admitted that the rural money provision is “just a tool” to make the senators cave on the labor issue.And while all those workers go without paychecks, we’re losing a lot of revenue. Supposedly the Republicans want to cut the deficit, but this partial shutdown is making it worse. When it commenced on July 22, the FAA lost its ability to collect the federal tax that is normally applied to all airline tickets. That tax puts roughly $200 million a week into the federal coffers. At minimum, this shutdown will go seven weeks. Which means that even if Congress somehow comes up with the FAA operating money on the day it returns, we will have lost $1.4 billion in revenue at a time when we sure could use it.On Monday, federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (a Republican) pleaded with lawmakers to end the shutdown before they left town for the rest of the summer. He said, “Do not go on your vacations until this issue is settled. Before you go on your vacations – your family vacations, your personal time – think about the 4000 FAA workers, the 70,000 construction workers who are in the middle of the work season.”Naturally, the lawmakers didn’t dwell on those workers for very long. They were anxious to take their leave of Dysfunction Junction. I assume they sat back and enjoyed their flights.

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