If anyone was worried that the much-belated move to raise the debt ceiling was an indication that fiscal sanity was taking hold in Washington, they can put those fears aside. The Federal Aviation Administration continues to be held hostage by House Republican leaders who appear to hate unions more than they care about air passenger service and the U.S. economy.
For those who hadn't taken notice of the dispute — admittedly, that's not too difficult considering the magnitude of other recent events — the FAA brouhaha reveals Congress at its most self-destructive (next to the debt ceiling debacle, that is). Because the House adjourned this week without approving FAA funding, 4,000 agency employees will spend the month on furlough, and thousands more private sector workers will sit idle.
But wait, it's worse than that. The partial shutdown means certain passenger taxes won't be collected and that will cost the federal government $25 million each day for a grand total of at least $1.2 billion before Congress reconvenes in September.
Dozens of construction projects have been halted since July 23 including work on a radar system at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Other Maryland companies have been hit hard and none more so than Lockheed Martin, which has been engaged in a $619 million contract for software, maintenance and engineering with the FAA.
Altogether, the work stoppage is having an impact on 24,000 construction workers and as many as 46,000 more engaged in support services for those various projects for a total of about 70,000, according to theU.S. Department of Transportation.
So what could possibly have been so crucial that Congress would throw such an enormous monkey wrench into an already-shaky U.S. economy? Last year's ruling by the Democratically-controlled National Mediation Board that makes it easier for unions to organize employees of railroads and airlines.
Under the board's decision, votes over whether to be represented by a union would be determined by a majority of those voting in the election instead of requiring a majority of all employees (a policy that, in effect, meant those not voting were automatically counted as casting "no" votes).
That hardly seems cataclysmic. But Republican leaders in the House find it so distasteful that they'd throw away hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues and idle thousands of hardworking Americans who just want to earn a living.
While air traffic controllers remain on the job as "essential" employees, there's bound to be some negative impact on air safety from all this neglect. New radar systems and improved runways are developed for a reason, after all, and Congressional inaction is only going to delay those badly needed upgrades.
Of course, it's not as if Congress has treated the FAA responsibly in the past either. Since 2007, the agency has been paid for through 20 temporary funding extensions without an agreement on an actual budget.
And in case anyone thinks the dispute is anything but political, Rep. John Mica, the Florida Republican who chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has added an extra dig: Holding up funding for Essential Air Service. That's a federal program that subsidizes travel to remote areas like those represented by certain key SenateDemocrats.
After the debt ceiling debacle, the American public ought to have no patience for such partisan shenanigans. The nation's welfare, its air safety, infrastructure and economy, ought to trump political self-interest. The agency's mission to ensure the safety of civil aviation is too important to be treated so irresponsibly and the country's unemployment rate is too high to so willingly put so many thousands of Americans out of work.