FAA funding fight takes center stage

The White House, Senate Democrats and House Republicans ratcheted up their rhetoric Wednesday over a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that has left 4,000 workers furloughed.

The blowup occurred a day after Washington finished months of intense work on a debt-ceiling deal that completely overshadowed the impasse over FAA funding.

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With that legislation signed into law, tensions over the FAA burst into the open, with some Democrats taking their frustrations over the debt talks into the new battle.

“This is a made-up crisis; this is government by hostage taking,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said at a Capitol Hill news conference with other senators.

She said Republicans were using the same tactics from the debt talks and an earlier fight this year over 2011 spending, when Republicans demanded that Democrats and the White House agree to significant spending cuts to reduce budget deficits while insisting that no new revenues from higher taxes be included.

“I hope the American people wake up. This is their modus operandi: government by crisis that they make up. Government by hostage taking. Government by threat,” said Boxer.


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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) should force his committee leaders to produce a bill “that can be approved by unanimous consent by the end of the week.”

Republicans countered that Senate Democrats had two weeks to respond to a GOP offer on an FAA bill but did nothing. They added that Democrats were protecting subsidies provided to small rural airports within 90 miles of larger airports.

“All it will take to end this crisis is for the Senate to pass the House-approved FAA extension,” Boehner said in a statement. “The House has done its job, and now it’s time for senators to do theirs.”

Democrats have objected to a provision in the short-term FAA extension approved by the House that would eliminate federal subsidies for rural airports in the states of Nevada, Montana and West Virginia. They accuse the GOP of playing politics by killing subsidies for airports in the home states of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

About 4,000 FAA workers have been furloughed since July 23 because of the impasse. The shutdown is costing the government an estimated $30 million per day in uncollected taxes on airline tickets. It is estimated another 70,000 construction workers have been put out of work by the shutdown because of stalled airport construction projects.

However, no signs emerged Wednesday that the sides were getting any closer to a deal, suggesting the fight will not be resolved until after Congress returns to Washington in September.

An exasperated Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, asked on C-SPAN if there is any chance there could be a breakthrough before next month, said: “The answer is no.”

He also suggested he would be spending August criticizing Congress in the hopes that the situation will be resolved quickly when lawmakers return in September.

President Obama said the impasse was “a lose-lose-lose situation that can easily be solved” through a “procedural agreement.” In comments that opened a meeting with his Cabinet, Obama said the fight was hurting the larger economy, describing it as an “example of how undone work in Washington can have an adverse effect on the economy.”

LaHood, a former GOP congressman from Illinois, castigated his ex-colleagues for intransigence.

“One or two people who wouldn’t compromise” caused the FAA to likely be shut down for a month, LaHood said on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.”

He also complimented Reid, whom he said had “stood tall” for being willing to accept the House-approved bill that would have cut subsidies to an airport in his state.

Reid on Wednesday said Boehner should “end this nonsense” and send over a clean FAA bill. Because both chambers are technically still in pro forma session during recess, Reid said Congress could pass a bill to quickly end the partial shutdown.

“They could send us a [clean] bill or we could send them a bill and they could pass it,” Reid said at a news conference. Later on Wednesday, Reid repeated his request to Boehner in writing.

Quoting Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) in his letter, Reid wrote that it was “not honorable” for the House to have sent the Senate an FAA short-term funding measure with an “extraneous amendment.” Hutchison used those words in floor comments earlier this week.

Meanwhile, Rockefeller and his counterpart in the House traded barbs, with each saying the other had not acted in good faith.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Democrats were being unreasonable.

“Senate Democrats have no one to blame but themselves for this partial shutdown of FAA programs and airport projects,” he said in a statement.

Rockefeller said he was willing to negotiate whatever provisions Republicans wanted in a longer-term bill if they passed a short-term bill to put the FAA workers back to work.

“A clean bill of extension says you'll talk, but you're not going to be told what you're going to talk about,” he said.

Bob Cusack and Alexander Bolton contributed to this report.